Category Archives: Bible and Theology

#279: My Journey to Becoming a Writer

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #279, on the subject of My Journey to Becoming a Writer.

This is a response to a question asked by Georgia Bester on the Christian Music Network Musician’s Corner at Facebook, which reads:

Hello [emoticon omitted]
For those of you in writing ministry. I would love to hear about your journey. How did you know for sure that this is where the Lord wanted you?

That link probably does not work if you do not belong to that group, as it is a closed group, but that is her entire post.

Uncertain exactly what she meant, I asked for clarification, specifically whether she was talking about songwriting or bookwriting, and she answered:

Christian Author+-songwriter

–which I take to mean both books and music.  I write both, and there have been separate but connected paths that brought me to them.

By the time I was twelve I had settled in my mind that I would be a professional musician, in the popular vein.  I already played piano, clarinet, oboe, saxophone, ukulele, and I think fife and recorder, and my singing was noteworthy–my kindergarten teacher had identified me as her “little songbird”.  I could hold a part in a choir, and had a significant range for a boy.  I had even tried writing music, but none of it was any good, and it was frustrating.

I was introduced to another boy my age (John “Jay” Fedigan) who played the guitar, sang, and wrote songs.  Working with him I learned how he wrote songs, and started doing so myself.  Because in order to play keyboards with him I was going to need to know what he was playing on the guitar (and he was clueless when it came to notes and chords) I learned to play the guitar.  Before I’d finished high school I’d added bass guitar, tuba, flute, and several other instruments to the list, but I got good on playing the guitar, singing, and writing my own songs.  This was the late sixties/early seventies, so these songs were all love songs, usually sad, or protest songs.

The Jesus Movement hit our town in a big way.  I actually had become a Christian when I was thirteen, in 1968, but it hadn’t had a lot of impact on my life because I’d always been a reasonably decent churchgoing kid.  The Jesus Movement was something different, people for whom faith was the center of their lives in a real way.  I got dragged along the edge of this, and became more involved, and realized that the songs I was writing weren’t really worth singing, in a message sense, so I started to shift more toward writing Christian songs, and by 1972 (middle of junior year high school) that’s pretty much all I wrote and all I sang.  (I did write a piece for my high school band, and a setting of the Lord’s Prayer which my high school chorus performed, and of course performing with school groups I did the music chosen by the directors.)  The band that had been a precision rock band called BLT Down became an evangelistic Christian vocal rock band called The Last Psalm, and for a couple years made a splash in coffeehouses and colleges in northern New Jersey.

I went to college and decided to major in Biblical Studies (rather than music) because I thought having that degree would open more doors for music ministry than the other.  I did take a music theory class, but I also took a creative writing fiction class, mostly because it sounded interesting and I imagined that I might one day write the next major Christian fantasy novel, akin to Tolkien’s work.  I played in a couple of bands, including Jacob’s Well and Aurora, which sometimes included some of my songs in the repertoire.

Coming out of college I mostly spun my wheels for years trying to get some traction.  My wife’s theory was that I would get a good paying job with my college degree and pursue music on the side until it reached the point that it paid for itself.  That never happened.  Instead, the Lord worked some strange circumstances to land me on the air at a small but important Christian radio station (it had been the twelfth most important Contemporary Christian/Rock radio station in the country shortly before I arrived, despite being in the sticks and reaching part of northern Delaware as its primary audience–no offense to people in Delaware, but it’s not one of the top markets in the country).  I did some solo concerts with teaching included and continued to write songs for them.  I met a lot of people in the Christian music world, but by this point my recording equipment had died and I had no recordings to give them and no spare money with which to repair the recorders.

During this time I headed up a project to launch a radio station news letter, and wrote much of the content for it.  We had it printed by a local newspaper, who traded printing costs for advertising time, and so I became acquainted with the associate editor of The Elmer Times.  In our chatting we hit an idea by which I would write a few pieces of political satire for his paper, under the byline M. Joseph Young, so that it wouldn’t be obvious that this was written by the DJ on the local Christian radio station.  I think two were published, and I might have copies of them buried somewhere.

After five years I parted ways with the radio station; God had in essence told me it was time to go, and I was so burnt from the struggle I didn’t ask where I was going.  That turned out to be nowhere fast.  I was asked at this time to head a band called TerraNova, which I did for a couple years, but a guitarist who came to us very humbly then made himself indispensable then fell apart and quit pretty much put an end to that.  I was going through jobs fairly quickly, four jobs in two years none of them going anywhere, and my wife, who finished her nursing degree, said I should go back to school.  I could tell you about the very strange search for continuing education and how I wound up going to law school, but suffice it that I did, and graduated with a Juris Doctore and a mountain of debt, only to be denied admission to the New Jersey Bar because of the debt.

While I was trying to resolve this problem, I was asked to help a friend of a friend who was trying to write a role playing game.  I was good at role playing games and good at writing; he was quite creative and had a core of excellent ideas for the game, but he was a terrible writer, had no head for game mechanics, and was very disorganized.  We collaborated, and after five years of work and personal tension he dropped out and left me to publish Multiverser:  The Game.  I kept the nom de plume M. Joseph Young for that project, and for most of what came from that.

I attempted to launch another band, Cardiac Output, which played a bit locally before the pressures and problems of my family life created by the combination of the debt and the fact that getting a law degree wasn’t solving anything was too much and the band collapsed.

In order to promote the game I started writing web pages, first as my own sites.  I wrote on multiple topics–Bible materials, but also role playing game stuff, time travel pages, some stuff on law and politics.  My own originally several web sites grew (eventually I consolidated them into one huge site, M. J. Young Net) and I was invited to write material for other web sites, most of it role playing game stuff, but some on other subjects.  I was occasionally paid small amounts for these.

The company that published Multiverser got a crazy idea to create a comic book based on the concept, and it fell to me as the company’s chief writer to create the characters and stories.  I had written enough for three issues (six stories, two for each of three characters who would rotate) when the tiny company’s art department said it couldn’t be done without increasing the size of the department sixfold, so the stories got shelved for a few months–and then I suggested that they could be turned into the beginning of a novel.  The company agreed, and eventually published Verse Three, Chapter One.  A lot of what brought that about is discussed elsewhere.

Something had been nagging at me ever since TerraNova had dissolved:  a lot of Christians had come to Christ and were never told what to do next.  I felt that a need existed, and in very short order wrote What Does God Expect?  A Gospel-based Approach to Christian Conduct.  The company that published the novel did not want to get the image of being a “Christian” book publisher, so I talked to a lot of people about it, and wound up self-publishing it.  This was followed by two more short books.

Laced into this, when I was at the radio station I became aware that one of the most Christian games I had ever played was being attacked by Christians, and so I spoke in defense of the game on the air, and put together notes for what might be an article.  A few years later I wrote that article, and tried to find a magazine interested in publishing it, but I’ve never been good at self-promotion so it didn’t go anywhere.  When I started putting things on the web I finished that article as Confessions of a Dungeons & Dragons(tm) Addict, and it caught the attention of Reverend Jim Aubuchon, who was co-founding an online group then called the Christian Role Playing Game Association.  He invited me, I wasn’t interested, again circumstances intervened and I was just about forced to join.  I was then asked to head a committee, and from that told that put me on the board of directors.  The group changed its name to Christian Gamers Guild, and the Vice President and the President both resigned in short order, the Chaplain decided that that made him President, and we needed a Chaplain, so he asked me to fill the slot just until we could finish the group’s constitution and hold elections.  I’d never won an election for anything in my life, and as far as I could see the Chaplain didn’t really do anything, so I figured I could wear the title for a couple months and then someone would replace me.

After those couple months there was an election, and I was nominated and elected to continue in the position.  After wearing the title for a couple years I decided that I ought to do something, so I started writing a monthly column entitled Faith and Gaming.  (I had also simultaneously started writing a weekly column for one of the role playing game web sites, Gaming Outpost, entitled Game Ideas Unlimited.)  I wrote this series for four years, disrupted by a computer crash.  People occasionally asked me if I was going to write more, or if I was going to put the material in a more accessible format, so I self-published Faith and Gaming.  A few years later a publisher in the industry approached me with the suggestion that they could republish an expanded edition with a few other articles I’d written on the subject in other venues, and I agreed.

In the end, I write and I compose because it’s what I do.  Much of what I write and all of what I compose is Christian, but then, that’s because I am Christian, and even when I’m writing about law or politics or role playing games there is a degree to which my Christianity is part of that–C. S. Lewis once commented that the world did not need more Christian books, but more books by Christians.  I’m not persuaded that he was right, as Christians need Christian books, but I think he was onto something with the notion that if the best books on secular subjects are written by Christians, unbelieving readers are going to find traces of the faith reflected in those books, undermining their unbelief.

So Georgia, if you’re asking how I knew God had called me to write, I don’t know that I ever really gave it much thought.  Writing is not one of the ministries; it’s one of the tools of ministry, and if you’re called to ministry and you can write, you’ll probably find yourself using writing as one of the tools of that ministry.  I write because I cannot help writing, and I sing and compose because I cannot help doing so, just as I teach and explain because it is innately part of me to do so.  If you are called to something, you will find yourself doing it, or doing something like it, without thinking about it.

I know this has been long, but I’m going to close with a few links to other articles you might find helpful on the issue:

#278: The 2018 Recap

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #278, on the subject of The 2018 Recap.

A year ago I continued a tradition of recapitulating in the most sketchy of fashions everything I had published over the previous year, in mark Joseph “young” web log post #219:  A 2017 Retrospective.  I am back to continue that tradition, as briefly as reasonable.  Some of that brevity will be achieved by referencing index pages, other collections of links to articles and installments.

For example, on the second of January, the same day I published that retrospective here, I also posted another chapter in the series of Multiverser novels, at which point we were at the twenty-third chapter of the fourth book, Spy Verses (which contains one hundred forty-seven short chapters).  We had just published the first of seven behind-the-writings web log posts looking at the writing process, but all of that is indexed at that link.  Also on that same day the Christian Gamers Guild released the second installment of the new series Faith in Play, but all of those articles along with all the articles in the RPG-ology series are listed, briefly described, and linked (along with other excellent articles from other members of the guild) in the just-published Thirteen Months in Review on their site.  That saves recapping here two dozen more titles in the realms of Bible/theology and gaming, many of them excellent.  It should also be mentioned that six days a week I post to the Chaplain’s Bible study list, finishing Revelation probably early next week, and posting “Musings” on Fridays.

Spy Verses wrapped up in October, and was followed by the release of an expansion of Multiverser Novel Support Pages, updated character sheets through the end of that book, and by the end of that month we had begun publishing, several chapters per week, Garden of Versers, which is still going as I write this.

Now would probably be a good time to mention that all of that writing is free to read, supported by reader contributions–that means you–through Patreon or PayPal Me.  If you’ve been following and enjoying any of those series, your encouragement and support through those means goes a long way to keeping them going, along with much else that has been written–and although that may be the bulk of what was written, there is still much else.

Since on January 10th the first of the year’s web log posts on law and politics appeared, we’ll cover those next.

#220:  The Right to Repair presents the new New Jersey law requiring manufacturers of consumer electronics to provide schematics, parts, and tools to owners at reasonable prices, so that those with some knowledge in the field can troubleshoot and repair their own cell phones and other electronics, and none of us need be at the mercy of price-gouging company stores.

#221:  Silence on the Lesbian Front addressed the ramifications of a Supreme Court decision not to hear a case against a Mississippi law permitting merchants to decline wedding services to homosexual weddings.

#222:  The Range War Explodes:  Interstate Water Rights arose at the Supreme Court level when Florida claimed Georgia was using too much of the water that should flow downstream to it.

#225:  Give Me Your Poor talks about our immigrant history, the illusion that it was entirely altruistic, and the question of what we do going forward.

#229:  A Challenge to Winner-Take-All in the Electoral College looks at a federal lawsuit claiming that the standard electoral college election system violates the one-person-one-vote rule.

#230:  No Womb No Say? challenges the notion that men should not have a say in abortion law.

#231:  Benefits of Free-Range Parenting discusses the recent idea that parents who do not closely monitor their kids are not being negligent.

#241:  Deportation of Dangerous Felons considers the Supreme Court case which decided that the law permitting deportation of immigrants for “aggravated felonies” is too vague.

#247:  The Homosexual Wedding Cake Case examines in some detail the decision that protected a baker from legal action against him for refusing service to a homosexual couple, based primarily on the prejudicial language of the lower court decision.

#251:  Voter Unregistration Law examined a somewhat complicated case upholding a law that permits removal of non-responsive voters from the registration lists.

#253:  Political Messages at Polling Places presented the decision that non-specific political clothing and such cannot be banned from polling places.

#255:  On Sveen:  Divorcees, Check Your Beneficiaries examined a convoluted probate case in which a law passed subsequent to a divorce dictated how life insurance policy assets should be distributed.

#259:  Saying No to Public Employee Union Agency Fees is the case the unions feared, in which they were stripped of their ability to charge non-members fees for representation.

#261:  A Small Victory for Pro-Life Advocates hinged on free speech and a California law compelling crisis pregnancy centers to post notices that the state provides free and low-cost abortions.

#270:  New Jersey’s 2018 Election Ballot was the first of two parts on the election in our state, #271:  New Jersey’s 2018 Election Results providing the second part.

#274:  Close Races and Third Parties arose in part from the fact that one of our congressional districts was undecided for several days, and in part from the fact that Maine has enacted a new experimental system which benefits third parties by having voters rank all candidates in order of preference.

One post that not only bridges the space between religion and politics but explains why the two cannot really be separated should be mentioned, #224:  Religious Politics.

My practice of late has been to put my book reviews on Goodreads, and you’ll find quite a few there, but for several reasons I included #223:  In re:  Full Moon Rising, by T. M. Becker as a web log post.  I also copied information from a series of Facebook posts about books I recommended into #263:  The Ten Book Cover Challenge.

There were a few entries in time travel, mostly posted to the Temporal Anomalies section of the site, including Temporal Anomalies in Synchronicity, which is pretty good once you understand what it really is; Temporal Anomalies in Paradox, which is a remarkably convoluted action-packed time travel story; Temporal Anomalies in O Homen Do Futuro a.k.a. The Man From the Future, a wonderfully clever Brazilian film in which the time traveler has to fix what he tried to fix, interacting with himself in the past; and Temporal Anomalies in Abby Sen, an Indian film that is ultimately pretty dull but not without some interesting ideas.

In the miscellaneous realm, we had #227:  Toward Better Subtitles suggesting how to improve the closed captioning on television shows; #228:  Applying the Rules of Grammar encourages writers to understand the rules and the reasons for them before breaking them; and #273:  Maintaining Fictional Character Records gives some details of my way of keeping character information consistent from book to book.

This year we also began a subseries on the roots of Christian Contemporary and Rock Music, starting with #232:  Larry Norman, Visitor in March, and continuing with

  1. #234:  Flip Sides of Ralph Carmichael
  2. #236:  Reign of The Imperials
  3. #238:  Love Song by Love Song
  4. #240:  Should Have Been a Friend of Paul Clark
  5. #242:  Disciple Andraé Crouch
  6. #244:  Missed the Archers
  7. #246:  The Secular Radio Hits
  8. #248:  The Hawkins Family
  9. #250:  Original Worship Leader Ted Sandquist
  10. #252:  Petra Means Rock
  11. #254:  Miscellaneous Early Christian Bands
  12. #256:  Harry Thomas’ Creations Come Alive
  13. #258:  British Invaders Malcolm and Alwyn
  14. #260:  Lamb and Jews for Jesus
  15. #262:  First Lady Honeytree of Christian Music
  16. #264:  How About Danny Taylor?
  17. #266:  Minstrel Barry McGuire
  18. #268:  Voice of the Second Chapter of Acts
  19. #272:  To the Bride Live
  20. #276:  Best Guitarist Phil Keaggy.

Looking at our Bible and Theology posts, the first of the year landed in the end of March, as #233:  Does Hell Exist? attempts to explore how the modern conception of hell compares with the Biblical one; #245:  Unspoken Prayer Requests finds theological problems with asking people to pray without telling them what to pray; and #267:  A Mass Revival Meeting explains what is really necessary to bring about a revival.

There were also a couple of entries related to gaming, including the republication of a lost article as #237:  Morality and Consequences:  Overlooked Roleplay Essentials–the first article I ever wrote to be published on someone else’s web site.  There was also a response to some comments made by #239:  A Departing Member of the Christian Gamers Guild, and a sort of review of a convention appearance, #249:  A 2018 AnimeNEXT Adventure.

A couple previously published pieces appeared in translation in the French edition of Places to Go, People to Be, which you can find indexed under my name there.

So that is a look at what was published online under my name this past year–a couple hundred articles, when you count all the chapters of the books (and more if you count all the Bible study posts).  In the future, well, I have a lot more to write about Christian music, I’m only getting started with Garden of Versers and have another novel, Versers Versus Versers, set up and ready to run, several Faith in Play and RPG-ology articles are in the queue (one publishes today), and there’s a study of the Gospel According to John ready to post and the Gospel According to Mark being prepared to follow it, plus some preliminary notes on Supreme Court cases, an analysis of a time travel movie that’s taking too long to finish, and more.

Again, your support through Patreon or PayPal.me helps make all of it possible.  Thank you for your support and encouragement.

#276: Best Guitarist Phil Keaggy

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #276, on the subject of Best Guitarist Phil Keaggy.

The rumor was always that Jimi Hendrix claimed Phil Keaggy was the best guitarist in the world.

The way I eventually heard the story, Hendrix was being interviewed and was asked what it was like to be the best guitarist in the world, and he replied, “I don’t know, ask Phil Keaggy.”

Keaggy always maintained that Hendrix never said he was the best in the world, and I suppose you could take that version of the story in a way which doesn’t say that.  On the other hand, Keaggy was and still is an amazing musician.

He began with a band called Glass Harp, and they were a more than moderately successful ensemble–they recorded a live album in Carnegie Hall sometime in the early 1970s, but it wasn’t released until the late 90s, after Keaggy was more than established.  For most aficionados his first Christian album was the breakthrough, and the title song What a Day put him on the map, showcasing his lead stylings.

It was again the title song of his next album, Love Broke Thru, which caught the ear; it was also recorded by its co-writer, still ahead on our survey, and although people still debate which version is better, the song propelled both of them into the spotlight.  It led to a tour and concert album with 2nd Chapter of Acts, under the title How the West Was Won, a good album which never achieved the greatness of To the Bride.

This was followed by a more fusion-styled album, The Master and the Musician, from which the only track I remember was the instrumental Agora (The Marketplace).

Not long after I arrived at the radio station, Ph’lip Side landed on our desk.  It was a much-played album, from the rocky opening A Royal Commandment to the gentle mostly acoustic closing I Belong to You, but the big cut for us, coming out when a major movement was bringing a Crisis Pregnancy Center to our local city, was Little Ones, still one of the most powerful songs in defense of the unborn.

I don’t recall ever having seen, let alone heard, the album Town to Town, but somewhere I still have a vinyl copy of Play Through Me, and whenever I think of Keaggy the first song that comes to my mind is probably the opener of that album, Happy, which is instrumental for probably four-fifths of its run.  Obviously, if I owned the album I heard it, probably many times, and would probably recognize any of the cuts from it, but the only other title that rings a bell is Nobody’s Playgirl Now.

Keaggy is still recording, so there’s a lot of his stuff I’ve never heard; but there was one more album he released in that last year before I left, and as 1983 came to an end I put it on a list of the ten most significant Christian albums of the year.  The album was double-titled, The Private Collection Volume I (there doesn’t appear to have been a Volume II) and Underground.  I recognize one track title from it, What a Love, but the quality of the music or the memorability of the songs was not what was significant with this.  It was the way it was produced.

TEAC, one of the leaders in recording equipment of the era, had released an all-in-one recording studio that used two cassettes–that’s right, cassettes, those tiny little tapes that were always getting chewed up inside the players but which abruptly produced a remarkable audio quality with the development of “metal tape”–to record four tracks on each and permit mixing from one tape to the other.  Keaggy sat at home and laid track upon track, drums, guitars, bass, multiple vocals, all using this gadget, and came up with an album that was at least passable by the standards of the day.

I say passable, but in a sense it wasn’t.  Sparrow Records, which at the time was contracted as Keaggy’s label, felt it was below their production standards, and if you listen to the album on good equipment and attend to the background tracks, you can hear the kind of distortion one gets from copying one tape to another repeatedly (I’ve done it, using a pair of TEAC 3340 reel-to-reel decks and a Tascam 3 mixer; alas my children destroyed those tapes).  Sparrow found itself in a bind, because the music was excellent but the production was below par, so they created a new label, Nissi Records, for the purpose.  I understand the label eventually carried more of Keaggy and several other artists, but I was no longer in touch with the industry so I don’t know the details.

To me, though, this was significant.  In the late 50s and very early 60s it was still possible to record a song in your garage on a small reel-to-reel recorder and have it break through to be a national hit.  By the early 80s hourly rates for studio time for the quality required to make a major label record ran six digits.  Keaggy’s record was the first glimmer of the possibility that it was still possible to make good recordings of good music at home at a not completely unreasonable cost.  It was well outside my budget as a barely-above-minimum-wage Christian radio DJ and PD, but it was not impossible to imagine being able to afford such a thing, even though I never could.

To wrap up, in college I knew someone who said that Keaggy was technically brilliant and undoubtedly impressed other musicians with his skill, but he found the music boring.  He did impress other musicians.  I attended a live solo concert of his in the early 70s, and he would perform these incredibly difficult pieces, and then give an embarrassed laugh and comment that he should have practiced that one.  However, I recently encountered evidence that Phil might just be the best guitarist in the world, in his live rendition of True Believers (video begins with an extended spoken intro).  He is obviously using some fancy equipment on his acoustic guitar, such as one or more ditto boxes, but even so the performance is technically brilliant, and the audience recognizes it.  He does things I’m not sure I could even tell you how to do, and I’ve been playing for almost as long as he has.

*****

The series to this point has included:

  1. #232:  Larry Norman, Visitor;
  2. #234:  Flip Sides of Ralph Carmichael;
  3. #236:  Reign of the Imperials;
  4. #238:  Love Song by Love Song.
  5. #240:  Should Have Been a Friend of Paul Clark.
  6. #242:  Disciple Andraé Crouch.
  7. #244: Missed The Archers.
  8. #246: The Secular Radio Hits.
  9. #248:  The Hawkins Family.
  10. #250:  Original Worship Leader Ted Sandquist.
  11. #252:  Petra Means Rock.
  12. #254:  Miscellaneous Early Christian Bands.
  13. #256:  Harry Thomas’ Creations Come Alive.
  14. #258:  British Invaders Malcolm and Alwyn.
  15. #260:  Lamb and Jews for Jesus.
  16. #262: First Lady Honeytree of Jesus Music.
  17. #264:  How About Danny Taylor.
  18. #266:  Minstrel Barry McGuire.
  19. #268:  Voice of the Second Chapter of Acts.
  20. #272:  To the Bride Live.

#267: A Mass Revival Meeting

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #267, on the subject of A Mass Revival Meeting.

On September 27 through 29 (coinciding with the Feast of Tabernacles) an organization called Awaken the Dawn is planning a massive effort entitled Tent America 2018.  In all fifty United States capitals and on many college campuses they are planning to hold huge meetings over several days, comprised of worship music and intercessory prayer.  The hope is to lead America to revival.

I received an invitation to participate, but after some investigation I declined, for a number of reasons.  I am sure that it will be a wonderful time of praise and worship for those for whom such meetings are worthwhile, and I would certainly encourage anyone to participate who benefits from such meetings.  However, I think the organizers, at least at the Trenton New Jersey location, have made two serious mistakes.

The first mistake is entirely common in our present time:  they have assumed that anyone who is a Christian musician is de facto a worship leader.  As I have elsewhere noted, just as the majority of Christians are not what we call “ministers” (although all are called to serve), so too the majority of Christian musicians are not “music ministers”, and even among those who are only some are what we call “worship leaders”.  Leading people in worship is fundamentally pastoral ministry.  It’s not about standing up front with a guitar singing the right songs; it’s about being called to that as a ministry.

I say it’s a common mistake–just as back in the 1970s it was assumed that anyone who was a Christian and a musician was automatically an evangelist.  It wasn’t true.  Today the assumption is that such people are automatically worship leaders–overlooking the fact that a worship leader is, pretty much by definition, a pastor, although very few will say this of their worship leaders.  I know they’re making this mistake because when they told me what they wanted, it pretty much came down to standing on the stage singing worship songs, not speaking more than necessary.  I am a teacher, but they did not want me to teach even a little bit.  Very few of my songs are “worship songs”; most of them teach.  I also have talked with another Christian musician planning to play there who readily admits not being a worship leader, but who is planning simply to play a few worship songs; if someone else is leading worship, that’s fine, and I fully agree with that attitude of being willing as a musician who is not a minister to support another minister with musical gifts.  However, it is a mistake to expect such musicians to be ministers just because they’re musicians and they know some worship songs.  It doesn’t work that way.

The other mistake is that they expect mass meetings of worship and intercession to result in revival.  I don’t want to say that it doesn’t work that way, but history and scripture both suggest that it doesn’t.  Revivals do not arise from Christians being involved in praise meetings; nor do they come from intercession.  Every revival whose roots can be traced began with believers repenting, confessing our own sins and admitting that we have not been what God wanted us to be.  These meetings are not telling anyone that.  Rather, they are focused on enjoying our relationships with God (which is certainly a good thing) and praying for other people.  It is not until we pray for ourselves, ask forgiveness and seek to change our ways, that we are launching the roots of revival.

To that end, it’s not going to be songs like You Are My King (Amazing Love) by The Newsboys, or Revelation Song by Phillips Craig & Dean that bring revival, as wonderful as they are, but songs like For King and Country’s Oh God, Forgive Us.  It is when we meet to confess our own sins and change our own lives that revival begins–always with the household of God.

#260: Lamb and Jews for Jesus

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #260, on the subject of Lamb and Jews for Jesus.

I had heard of Lamb long before I heard them.  I think I even knew that their names were Joel and Rick, and I knew that Rick was a goy and Joel was Jewish.  They were a tip of an iceberg floating in the sea of the Jesus movement, of which Moishe Rosen’s organization Jews for Jesus was the other visible tip:  Jews embracing Jesus as Messiah.  I knew they were out there, they were happening, they were said to be good.

It wasn’t until their sixth album, in their eighth year, that I heard them.  That 1981 album New Mix was a bit different, and particularly different was the hit song Jonah.  Guitarist Rick “Levi” Coghill achieved the vocal effect with something called a “voice tube”, then a relatively new gadget that enabled the guitarist to control the “packaging” of the guitar output by singing into the device, combining voice packaging with guitar pitch.  Vocalist Joel Chernoff captured the drama of the song quite well.  The rest of their music has a very Jewish folk feel–well done and beautiful, and they were on the charts before and after I was involved in radio.  Sing Hallelujah, from their earlier Songs for the Flock LP, is perhaps more typical of their sound..

It is perhaps peculiar that Jonah is the only song of theirs that I remember, but it was quite a memorable song.  I saw them perform it live, and they managed to capture most of the flavor of the song with just the two of them on stage.

I caught up with Rick after that concert.  He was engaged in a discussion with a fan who was very disappointed that the band didn’t have an “altar call” and invite the unsaved to pray for salvation.  His answer was quite interesting.  He said that no one gets to a Lamb concert who doesn’t already at least know what they have to do to be saved.  They might not have decided to do it, but they don’t really need to be told or walked through it.  It seemed to me he was right.  After all, the concert, like probably ninety-five percent of the Christian concerts I attended, was in a church (and another 1% were at specifically Christian events like Creation).  By 1981 there weren’t many people who might have attended such a concert who were not Christian and hadn’t heard the gospel.  Rick and Joel weren’t so much there for the few unbelievers who might have been in the audience, but for the believers who filled the hall.  It showed a keen understanding of the purpose of their ministry.

Online discographies report that the final album was released in 1990, after which there was a compilation CD of their earliest work in 1993.  Joel’s Lamb website reports that he continued to perform and record, and in 2005 released an album with another guitarist replacing Rick.  I find nothing more recent but a Facebook fan page, which is not currently very active.  Still, 1973 to 2005 is a respectable thirty-two year run, and the band more than anyone else defined Messianic music.

Jews for Jesus is still alive and well, and will gladly come to your church to present the Jewish roots of Christian faith and practice, including images of Christ in the Passover.

*****

The series to this point has included:

  1. #232:  Larry Norman, Visitor;
  2. #234:  Flip Sides of Ralph Carmichael;
  3. #236:  Reign of the Imperials;
  4. #238:  Love Song by Love Song.
  5. #240:  Should Have Been a Friend of Paul Clark.
  6. #242:  Disciple Andraé Crouch.
  7. #244: Missed The Archers.
  8. #246: The Secular Radio Hits.
  9. #248:  The Hawkins Family.
  10. #250:  Original Worship Leader Ted Sandquist.
  11. #252:  Petra Means Rock.
  12. #254:  Miscellaneous Early Christian Bands.
  13. #256:  Harry Thomas’ Creations Come Alive.
  14. #258: British Invaders Malcolm and Alwyn.

#250: Original Worship Leader Ted Sandquist

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #250, on the subject of Original Worship Leader Ted Sandquist.

The peculiar thing about Christian rock music in the 1970s is that it was almost all evangelistic.  As I noted before, during the Jesus Movement if you were a musician it was assumed God had called you to be an evangelist, or at least to play at evangelistic rallies to attract unbelievers to hear the message.

Today the expectation is entirely different.  We expect our musicians to lead worship.  It doesn’t even occur to us that this puts them squarely in the realm of pastoral ministry, but helping people approach God is the task of pastors, and that’s what worship leaders do.  In the seventies we didn’t really have these–even Chuck Girard’s previously mentioned Sometimes Alleluia isn’t really so much a worship song as a song about worship, an instructional as it were.  Yet one person appeared on the scene who understood that not all music ministry was evangelistic, who led worship and who wrote and recorded songs that were focused on worship.  His name was Ted Sandquist.

Sandquist was a leader in a community that had its own place in the history of the Jesus Movement, The Love Inn in Freeville, New York.  One of the other leaders there was Scott Ross, who as a radio disk jockey came out of the drug culture into being an evangelist, reaching into schools as part of an anti-drug program.  Guitarist Phil Keaggy (still to come in our series) was also there for a time.  It was something of a community or possibly commune dedicated to the pursuit of Christian faith and practice, something like a modern version of a monastery but without the gender restrictions.  Its very name hints at the connection between the hippie movement and the subsequent Jesus movement.

I mentioned having heard Sandquist and spoken with him after a concert he and Keaggy did somewhere in north Jersey; those comments are mentioned in web log post #163:  So You Want to Be a Christian Musician, and are what I most remember about him.  However, I was exposed to his album of the time, The Courts of the King, and remember Lion of Judah from it.  He was accompanied by the people at Love Inn.  I sang and played his song All That I Can Do many times before I recognized that the melody came from another famous bit of worship music (I have since wondered whether he or anyone else ever realized it).

Yet the best song I ever heard from Ted Sandquist goes by several names.  I knew it as Eternally Grateful, but I see online that it was also known as I Am Grateful, I Am, You Are Messiah, You Are, and I Am Eternally Grateful.  It was co-written with Keaggy–and there is not a single copy of this song anywhere online that I can find.  It was released on his 1984 album Let the Whole Earth Be Filled, but Jeff Zurheide and I were singing it at least a decade before that.  Its absence from the web is a serious loss to Christian worship music.

*****

The series to this point has included:

  1. #232:  Larry Norman, Visitor;
  2. #234:  Flip Sides of Ralph Carmichael;
  3. #236:  Reign of the Imperials;
  4. #238:  Love Song by Love Song.
  5. #240:  Should Have Been a Friend of Paul Clark.
  6. #242:  Disciple Andraé Crouch.
  7. #244:  Missed The Archers.
  8. #246:  The Secular Radio Hits.
  9. #248:  The Hawkins Family.

#245: Unspoken Prayer Requests

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #245, on the subject of Unspoken Prayer Requests.

In Matthew 18:19f, Jesus says (in the Updated New American Standard Bible), Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.

From this we quite rightly have prayer meetings, gatherings in which believers share their concerns, needs, troubles, and pray for each other, believing that God will answer.  This is good.

However, it often happens at such meetings, and in church services when prayer requests are elicited, that someone will make what they have come to call an “unspoken” request.  It comes down to “I want you to pray with me, but I don’t want to tell you why.”  I have some serious theological problems with that notion, which I will explain here–but I recognize the importance of being able to ask for prayer without sharing secrets, so I’ll address that as well.

To begin, when we agree together in asking, as that verse says, it inherently means that we are agreeing, that is, knowingly asking for the same thing.  It is difficult on its face to see how I can agree with you in prayer about something you’re not telling me.  Of course, you will say, God knows what it is that you are asking, and I can just agree with that.  Yet can I?  I think scripture says otherwise.  In I Corinthians 14:16, after discussing the notion of someone praying in tongues in the presence of someone who cannot interpret and therefore does not know what is being said, Paul writes Otherwise if you bless in the spirit only (that is, in tongues), how will the one who fills the place of the ungifted say the “Amen”…?  “Amen” means “I agree” or “so be it”; it is in essence saying “yes” to what has just been said.  Paul’s point here is that if the other person doesn’t know what you just prayed, he can’t agree with it.

If that applies to praying in tongues, where something actually has been said but I don’t know what it is, then certainly it must apply in “unspoken” prayer requests, where nothing has been said but I am asked to agree.  I can’t very well agree with a prayer without knowing what is prayed.  What am I praying?  “Lord, I agree in asking that nothing be done for this person”?

Further, in II Corinthians 1:11, Paul talks about people agreeing in prayer while apparently great distances apart from each other, saying you also joining in helping us through your prayers, so that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed on us through the prayers of many.  That is a very significant statement, because it partly explains why God is more likely to answer a prayer where people have agreed than a petition from an individual.  God wants the credit.  When He does something on our behalf, He wants us to thank Him, and the more people thank Him the better He likes it.  It’s called “giving God the glory for what He has done”.

That means that any time you ask anyone else to pray for you, you take to yourself two obligations.  The second, the one obvious in this context, is that you are obliged to return to that person, or those persons, and tell them about God’s answer to their prayers so that they can give thanks.  If you’re not going to do that, there’s no reason for God to bother answering.  The other is inferred from it:  if you want people to be able to give thanks for the answer to their prayers, you have to tell them for what they are praying.  If I am praying some sort of “I agree with whatever it is he wants even though I don’t know what it is” prayer, then I’m not in a position to know whether that prayer has been answered.

Yet of course we should bring our burdens to each other and pray for each other and get prayer from each other.  Still, we are all going to have difficulties which we rightly prefer not to share publicly.  Sometimes we are going to have prayers that involve other people, and would require the sharing of secrets that are not ours to divulge.  Sometimes our prayers will involve matters that are delicate, which would become a root of gossip or disrupt our lives or the lives of others were they to be revealed.  Sometimes the need is embarrassing, and it would be better for all not to speak of it openly.  How, then, do we get prayer from others in these kinds of situations?

One option, of course, is to choose your prayer support more carefully.  The prayers of a close friend, a pastor or priest, someone you can trust to keep a secret, are as good as those of a crowd of strangers, and you can share your situation with these people in sufficient detail that they know what they are praying.

Another option is to consider what it is that you really need, and remove the lurid details from the request while still making the request:  “I am facing some difficult decisions and need wisdom.”  “I have to make some hard choices and need strength to do what I need to do.”  We can pray for you to have wisdom, strength, guidance, patience, endurance, joy, whatever it is that you actually need in the midst of whatever you’re not telling us.  You can return and tell us how it worked later, and again omit the details that aren’t relevant to our ability to give thanks for the answer.

If somehow you can’t do either of those things, then maybe you need to consider what it is that you’re asking, and whether it is something God wants for you.  Unspoken requests make sense when you’re asking for something good and right in the midst of something difficult and embarrassing, in which case you can skip the context and get to the request.  They make no sense when you’re asking us to agree in prayer with you for something we would immediately recognize is not something to ask of God.  That is probably not the case for most “unspoken” prayer requests–but how would we know?

So I will gladly pray for you (I’ve said as much previously, and given my conditions), but I want to know what I’m praying.

#239: A Departing Member of the Christian Gamers Guild

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #239, on the subject of A Departing Member of the Christian Gamers Guild.

Someone recently posted to the Christian Gamers Guild list, in a post called So Long and Thanks for All the Fish, that he would be resigning.  This is not a big deal; members come and members go, and life is like that.  Two things make this event a bit different.  The lesser is this individual has been involved for perhaps as long as I have, perhaps longer, and years ago actively so, and I miss some of those who were involved in the early years who are no longer there.  The greater is that in announcing his departure he suggested that perhaps he was wrong about role playing games, and that maybe the rest of us should consider quitting the hobby as well.

I am reproducing my reply, in substance at least, below; first, I am going to attempt to do justice to his statement without actually plagiarizing it.  I am going to call him “J” here, because I don’t have his permission to use this and don’t particularly want to put him on the spot, and “J” has absolutely nothing to do with his name (it’s short for “John Doe”, if you must know); members of the Christian Gamers Guild already know who he is.

J begins by introducing himself and announcing that he is leaving the group because he has decided not to play role playing games, but he wants to explain that.

Giving his history, he notes that when he first joined the group he was uncertain whether role playing games were compatible with Christian faith, and how that would work.  He had stopped playing when he became a Christian, but encouraged by the guild resumed doing so.  He identifies himself as “a Spirit-Filled believer and as such I believe in the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the church today through the gifts of the Spirit and in the anointing and power of God being alive and active in the Church and in individual believers today.”

He says that as soon as he returned to role playing he knew something wasn’t right but wouldn’t admit it to himself.  He was involved in ministry, but always felt that there was a hindrance blocking his connection to the Holy Spirit.

Interestingly, he also felt that his faith interfered with his ability to play the games.  Before he was a believer, he felt that he tapped into something that enabled his games to flow, and once he was a Christian running games became a chore.  He believes that he had been connecting with a “spirit”, and although what he says is not exactly clear as to whether he means that literally he thinks there is a demonic and seductive connection in role playing games.  As a Christian, they simply weren’t the same for him as they had been when he was an unbeliever.

J then tells us that before he was a believer he was involved in the occult, and that Dungeons & Dragons™ played a role in pointing him in that direction.  His occult involvement never produced anything but empty promises and a few frightening experiences, and eventually drove him to Christ.

He wisely tells us that the Holy Spirit is at odds with many things in this world; he says that role playing games are one of them.  The most objective objection he raises is from someone who counseled him against games, who said “…in role playing games you spend your time trying to be something that you are not; what the Holy Spirit wants you to do is be who you are.”  He feels it is necessary for us to ignore explorations of who we aren’t and seek more deeply who we are.  So saying, he recommends that we all leave the fantasy behind, although he recognizes that not everyone is at the same place with God.  He departs with a word of love for us as siblings in Christ, and with the famous closing, “Grace and peace be multiplied to you.”

*****

I am not attempting to persuade J that he’s wrong to leave the group or to give up role playing or other hobby games.  That’s a weaker brother issue, and if it’s a problem for him, I respect that.  I will certainly in some way miss him, even though he has rarely posted recently, just because knowing that there are a few people around besides Christian Gamers Guild President Rodney Barnes and me who have been here from the E-groups days makes me feel better about still being part of it all–and I do feel good about it; it has in some ways become integral to my identity.

Further, I understand the Charismatic/Spirit-filled viewpoint.  I don’t know that I speak in tongues more than you all, but I do speak in tongues, and quite a bit, while sitting, working, driving, writing, washing dishes, and at many other times.  Yet I am also solidly grounded in the more “rational” denominations, with solid connections to the Baptists, Presbyterians, and Lutherans particularly, and more casually to quite a few other denominations.  It also should be said that, like Rodney, I was a believer for many years before I discovered Dungeons & Dragons™, and in fact my “gateway” to it was the fantasy literature of J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis.

My problem with what J says is that it’s almost entirely subjective.

There’s nothing wrong with that, per se.  As I discuss in Objective and Subjective Christian Guidance (covered in a bit more detail in my book What Does God Expect?) our lives are very much about balancing the two kinds of direction, each tempering the other.  Sometimes what God wants us to do is delivered entirely subjectively, and we have to trust at some level our own instincts, that this is indeed what God is saying, and not something that comes from within ourselves.  I just get upset about it because I’ve had people say to me that “God told me” the games were evil, and there is then no discussion.  J isn’t saying that; he’s saying that they have been an impediment to his own joy and connection to God, and he thinks it might be so for others.  It is certainly the case that God sometimes asks us to surrender perfectly good things simply because He must be more important in our lives than they are.  Anything that we are not willing to give up for God is an impediment to our relationship with Him.

In the course of the discussion, someone suggested that eventually J will be able to return to gaming, and that’s possible–but it’s also, I think, an idea that itself becomes an impediment.  If you give something up in the hope that God will give it back, you are still holding on to it.  When God wants you to give up something, you need to walk away and not look back.  So I understand that J might never return, and certainly is not going to expect to do so at this point as he is leaving.  That expectation itself would be counter-productive, an indication that he is not really leaving gaming but only pretending to do so for the present.

J is uncomfortable with the magic in gaming because in his mind it is connected to the occult.  I have often argued that one of the best aspects of fantasy role playing games is the magic, that it opens the players to the possibility that there is more in the world than materialistic naturalism.  Of course, when that happens believers need to be there to say, “Yes, and this is where you find it.”  J had the opposite experience, and now for him there is a connection from seeing the supernatural dimensions of the world and moving toward the occult.  For me, the connection is the opposite direction, from seeing the power of God to discovering the fictional exploration of that power in the games.

The games have also connected me to a lot of people who need God, and I think perhaps I have helped some of them along the way.

J’s point that many things in the world are at odds with God is certainly right and important; however, most of us are involved in the world by necessity, working in jobs that are not primarily about reaching people for Christ or building the faith of believers (sales help might be service industry, but it’s not delivering the gospel), becoming part of organizations that are beneficial without having solid religious connections (hospitals are big in this, but I also am aware of groups trying to help the homeless, and drug rehabilitation programs that are not primarily Christian faith based).  Jesus said that everyone who is not for us is against us, but He also said that everyone who is not against us is for us, and while that makes the world seem black and white, it also introduces the possibility that some things can be used both for and against God.  I watch television shows which some think are science fiction of the worst sort, in which I see metaphors for the work of God in the world.  Certainly role playing games can be used in ways that oppose God, but as I’ve noted elsewhere, even some which seem most anti-Christian can prove at the bottom to be strongly Christian.  It is not what we use but how we use it that most controls the impact of our games.  For some, incredibly dark worlds have been a reminder of the amazing greatness of God.

J also suggests that we need to discover who we really are, not explore fantasies of who we might be.  Yet I think this is an unreal dichotomy.  I often discover more of who I really am by exploring who I am not, and sometimes discover that who I pretend to be is really part of who I actually am.  Playing Multiverser I was encouraged by its magic system to trust the power of God for several things, minor things really but in some sense magical or miraculous in their own way, because my character did so successfully in the game world.  I would not have had the boldness to pray some of the practical prayers I have prayed had it not been that I explored that boldness in character.  Even in playing “unlike me” characters, I learn much about how people who reject God are thinking, and am thereby better able to connect with them and deliver the truth.  The exploration of fantasies is a significant part of understanding my reality.  Indeed, the fantasy literature of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien and Charles Williams have had tremendous impact not only on me but on believers and unbelievers around the world.  Why should fantasy gaming not also have the same potential, used aright?

Some of what I have said is of course subjective, and none of it is a reason for J to stay if God is telling him to leave.  However, if you are considering whether what J says might be true for you, consider also whether being involved in role playing games has had any of these benefits for you:  connecting you to people who need to see your faith; giving you insight into the spiritual battle between God and the devil within the metaphors of the game; strengthening your faith by reminding you that you are on the side that has the power.  I have profited in those ways from game play, and in a sense that’s the tip of the iceberg.  The largest open door for my ministry has been through this group, a group I was reluctant twenty years ago to join, which has encouraged my efforts and given me a platform to reach out to a world not much reached by believers, the world of hobby gamers.

So I say so long, J, and if you’ve gotten any of those fish you mentioned from me, you’re welcome.  I hope you’ll keep in touch through other media like Facebook, but wish you the best of grace in all your endeavors.

#234: Flip Sides of Ralph Carmichael

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #234, on the subject of Flip Sides of Ralph Carmichael.

This is the second article in a series of reminiscences about what might be considered the early days of Christian contemporary and rock music, which began with #232:  Larry Norman, Visitor.

For what seemed a lot of years I didn’t like Ralph Carmichael.  He wrote the song He’s Everything to Me, and was responsible for the little booklet of similar songs, songs of a particular style that I found irksome.  The way I have often described it is that these are songs older people bring into church services for the younger people, and young people tolerate as the best they’re likely to get but not really what they want.  The late sixties and early seventies were full of these pseudo-contemporary musicians, from the Hot Hymns and Cool Carols collection by Presbyterians Richard Avery and Donald Marsh to the Roman Catholic contemporary folk singer Ray Repp.  I viewed Carmichael as a facilitator of what I regarded musical pablum.

I was corrected.

Song title links are to YouTube videos; no representation is made as to whether they are legal copies.  My credentials are presented in the first article of this series, the Larry Norman article.

It’s not that Carmichael wasn’t responsible for the publication and promotion of a lot of this music I thought didn’t really appeal to the target youth audience (and really, that audience was a lot more varied than I credited at the time).  It isn’t even that there were some gems in the trash–I doubt I would have heard Kurt Kaiser’s Pass It On were it not published by Carmichael (and Kaiser’s Master Designer, while not in the same class as the marvelous Pass It On, is a decent song, too).  It’s that there was more to Ralph Carmichael than I knew.  Carmichael might not have been all that adept at writing music for the upcoming generations of the sixties and seventies, but he proved quite adept at finding people who were and getting them in the spotlight.  Ralph Carmichael spearheaded Light Records.

I have no idea who the leading labels are today, but by 1979 there were four major publishers of contemporary Christian record albums.  Word Records (originally Spoken Word Records) came out of Waco, Texas, and their Myrrh label was instrumental in launching careers of quite a few major artists of the time including Barry McGuire and The Second Chapter of Acts.  The Benson Group in Nashville had several labels, of which Greentree Records was the largest in the contemporary field, with a number of Nashville-based artists including Dallas Holm.  Sparrow Records was a latecomer to the field, but quickly became the label of choice for most of the California-based musicians and dominated a lot of the best music.  Carmichael started the fourth, not in time but in size, Light Records, connected to his Lexicon Music and loosely to Word Records.  Andre Crouch and Resurrection Band were the big names on Light, which featured many other artists in a mostly light contemporary sound.

It also released, on vinyl, a weekly half-hour interview and music radio show, The Ralph Carmichael Radio Special, featuring its new releases.  We would receive these in the mail, a disk on which Ralph himself would talk with an artist and introduce all the songs on the A side of a recent album, and then for the next week the B side of the interview record would cover the B side of the album.  This kind of behind-the-songs program was not really otherwise available in Contemporary Christian music–oh, we made our own when we were able, trying to land extended interviews with artists in the area for concerts or available by telephone from elsewhere, but Carmichael made it easy, putting his young artists in a spotlight that boosted their exposure significantly.  He did a tremendous amount for contemporary Christian music in those days.

He ultimately earned a place in the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.  It was well-deserved.

I still am not a big fan of the kind of music he wrote, but I have a lot of respect for the man himself.

I also have a story he told on himself, which I got from Barry McGuire, but it will arise in connection with another artist later in our series.

#233: Does Hell Exist?

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #233, on the subject of Does Hell Exist?.

Pope Francis was in the news, quoted by a liberal publication in Italy as having stated that there is no hell.

The Roman Catholic Church immediately did damage control, issuing a statement to the effect that His Eminence was misquoted.  Yet it seems he must have said something which caused the interviewer to extrapolate this notion, and that raises a question that has vexed believers and theologians and deniers for generations, at least:  what is the nature of eternal punishment?  In short, is there a literal Hell?

It sounds very nearly like an heretical question, the sort of notion that would have you dragged before an inquisitor once upon a time.  Yet the fact is that it’s not a new issue, and proves to be one that has been hotly debated even among conservative churchmen for most of the past century.  There are a lot of layers to it, and it’s worth considering.

Let’s start with definitions.

The first issue is what we mean by hell.

The word itself conjures images of a flaming abode where people are tortured eternally by demons.  This, though, is not its biblical nor its historical sense.  Our English word was once the rough equivalent of the Hebrew word “sheol”, the place where the dead in some sense go, sometimes rendered “the grave”.  It is not dissimilar to the Greek concept we call “Hades”, which was originally “Hades’ place”, the realm of the god of the dead, implying that people who died in some sense continued, but weren’t really alive as we would understand it.  We could continue the debate of exactly what the ancients envisioned, but it may have been something like that almost-awake state we sometimes experience when we have a vague awareness of the world around us but cannot fully understand or interact with it.

But doesn’t the Bible tell us that hell is a place of torture?  Not exactly.  It speaks of the afterlife of the lost, and of the punishment of fallen angels, but it doesn’t give us entirely clear answers, only images.  This makes some sense, if we recognize that whatever the nature of the afterlife it is completely outside the experience of every one of us still living, and thus the best we can be told is that it is something like something familiar to us that is different–and Young’s Theorem (my father) states, Things that are not the same are different.

Jesus frequently said that for those who did not come to faith, the afterlife was like Gehenna.  We have created images of this place “where the worm never dies and the fires are never extinguished”, but Gehenna, or literally the Valley of Hinnom, was a real place:  it was for centuries the garbage dump outside the city of Jerusalem, where composting waste supported a proliferation of creatures feeding on it and the production of methane created spontaneous fires.  The message is that if you miss heaven, it’s the equivalent of being tossed in the garbage.  It is of course a metaphor; it doesn’t really tell us what hell is like as a physical place, or even if it is a physical place.

Similarly, Jesus spoke of being cast into the outer darkness.  This, though, was generally contrasted to the other image, the image of being invited to the wedding feast.  We thus again have a metaphor, on one side being included in this wonderful party, and on the other side being locked outside in the cold and dark.  It in that sense tells us what hell is like by analogy, not what it is like in any physical sense.

Doesn’t the Bible speak of a lake of fire, though?  Yes, it does–late in the book Protestants call Revelation and Catholics Apocalypse (the same concept, really–“revelation” coming from the Latin for “unveiling” and “apocalypse” coming from the Greek for “uncovering”).  Almost anyone who attempts to read the book concludes that it is rich with metaphoric imagery, and this is a metaphoric image.

Besides, does it make more sense to see the devil and his angels swimming about in a lake of fire for eternity, or to assume that the fire consumes them completely so that there is nothing left?

Consider the alternative.

That has become the issue.  There are, of course, groups that believe no one goes to hell, that everyone ultimately is saved, but these are not regarded orthodox by anyone other than themselves, and their beliefs are not Biblical.  The “orthodox” alternative lies in the question, as put by John Wenham in his book The Goodness of God, of whether eternal punishment is eternal in its duration or eternal in its consequences.  Fire, one of the critical images, consumes.  If we throw someone in fire long enough, there remains nothing–even ash is reduced to gasses given enough time and enough heat.  C. S. Lewis somewhere suggested that any being separated from the source and foundation of being long enough would deteriorate into non-being eventually, and examples in his metaphorical The Great Divorce suggest that people separated from God ultimately cease to be people at all–the clever example of the issue of whether that person is merely a grumbler or has now come to be nothing more than an ongoing grumble without a person at all.  People without God are becoming less human; people in Christ are becoming more human.  Again as Lewis observed, it might be a very small change during life, but if it sets a pattern that continues into eternity, people who have begun the right pattern ultimately will be perfect, and those on the opposite track ultimately will deteriorate to nothing.

This resolves the objection, that heaven could not possibly be happy as long as hell continued.  Hell doesn’t continue; it merely happens, and those to whom it happens soon know nothing.

It comes to my attention that at least one of the creeds says that Jesus “descended into hell”.  To this, first, it should be said that the creed does not tell us what hell is; second, that creeds are not scripture but only human attempts to distill scripture; and third, that this is probably an interpretation of Ephesians 4:9 where Paul says that Jesus descended “into the lower parts of the earth” (which could mean here where we live, in the context).  The Bible does not actually say that Jesus entered any place called hell.

So what do we conclude?

We conclude that we do not really know anything at all about hell.  It is certainly not impossible that there is a place like Dante’s Inferno in which people continue to live and to suffer to varying degrees based on their wickedness and unbelief.  Those, though, are images from medieval concepts of torture, not Biblical images.  A place of eternal punishment could exist, and people could be confined there.  It could be torture, or it could be that the torture is knowing that there was a chance at something better which was rejected, or it could be that those who are there do not know or believe that death could have brought them to something better.  Perhaps they suffer only in that they don’t know what they missed, but not knowing they don’t realize that they have missed anything.

Perhaps, though, the imagery is meant to tell us that those who embrace Christ are brought into an eternally blissful existence, and those who do not do so are tossed in the trash, thrown in the incinerator, and removed from existence.

I do not say that I believe that; nor do I believe the other.  I believe that God has not clearly told us what happens to those who reject Him, partly because it is beyond our experience and therefore our understanding, and partly because what matters is we understand that whatever happens to those who reject Him is something we want to avoid in favor of what happens to those who embrace Him.  If we turn to God, we may never know what would have happened to us otherwise, and we will never need to know whether there is an eternal hell or only a terminal one.

So the answer is yes, there almost certainly is a hell–but it is probably nothing like you have imagined.