It was John Eldredge who first drew my attention to St. Irenaeus’s profound statement, “The glory of God is man fully alive.” That was something that I really had to ponder; in fact I found it quite shocking. It was an idea I had never heard or considered before. I could relate to Eldredge’s reaction in his Waking the Dead:
“Hope unbidden arose at the thought that God’s intentions towards me might be better than I’d thought. His happiness and my happiness are tied together? My coming fully alive is what He’s committed to? That’s the offer of Christianity? Wow! I mean, it would make no small difference if we knew–and I mean really knew–that down-deep-in-your-toes kind of knowing that no one and nothing can talk you out of–if we knew that our lives and God’s glory were bound together. Things would start looking up. It would feel promising…the offer is life. Make no mistake about that. So then…where is that life? Why is it so rare?”
What do you think of Irenaeus’s statement? I have come across this quote on various evangelical blogs of all stripes. Why is this quote so intriguing and why is it seemingly a new concept to the modern Church? I find it interesting that John Eldredge, a veteran of the faith, had only come into this way of thinking later in his Christian life. He said that he felt that he had been “robbed,” for this truth appeared to have been hidden from him but now opened up and embodied a facet of the Gospel he had never grasped before.
The reason I highlight this quote is because it appears to have revolutionized Eldridge’s thinking and continues to be the underlying and sustaining truth of his ministry of “Ransomed Heart.”
But this quote by Irenaeus and the profound reaction it evokes in people seems to beg a lot of questions. It is indeed a glorious and freeing concept but only insofar as evangelicals allow it to take them outside their box of traditional theology. Have you ever noticed how we are perfectly willing to let these kinds of hopeful visions take us places we are really not allowed to go? See the astounding things that Tim Keller and others have written; HERE I have never heard anyone counter these sweeping statements of hope and restoration such as “Everything sad is going to come untrue” that is often worked into sermons and Christian songs (from The Lord of the Rings). Also the phrase”All things new” from Revelation 21 is the theme of many missional churches, songs and websites but never accompanied with any qualifiers to indicate how this restoration will be a relatively small one (compared with the billions of souls lost to an eternal hell).
So I essentially buried the logical objections when I first encountered this Irenaeus quote. That is because I could not bear to qualify it or shrink it or make it just about me. But I can tell you what my questions would have been had I reacted analytically.
I would have asked the following:
1. If God’s glory is connected to my redemption and resurrection (coming “fully alive”) yet we are told that many will be lost in eternal hell how can I know that He really has this in store for me?
a.) as an Arminian I can only hope in the possibility that I am going to remain in the faith, or
b.) as a Calvinist I can only hope that I am one of the “elect” who has been ordained to be made fully alive through Christ.
2. If man’s redemption and restoration are “bound together with His glory” what impact will the eternal death of billions of His image-bearers have upon that glory? How will God be glorified in the end by billions of human beings cycling forever in misery, sin, hatred, rebellion, and death somewhere in His universe? How can God be glorified by allowing most of mankind to destroy themselves and exist forever as “fully dead”?
3. Why was this statement so incredibly paradigm-shifting to Eldredge? Is it because it recovers some essential element of the Gospel needed to be truly good and objective news: that God’s one purpose of His glory through Jesus Christ will, indeed must, include the restoration of His entire created order–as in, all of it?
Since John Eldredge is a believer in “free-will” he has the advantage over the Calvinist. At least for the Arminian, God wants and desires to save you and make you fully alive, no matter who you are. Not so with the Calvinist. You must depend on a mere hope that you are among the elect. A “godly life” or some spiritual experience are both very subjective and cannot give true assurance and comfort.
The neo-Reformed pastors would say, “you must depend upon the objective work of Christ” (thus the myriad number of books on personally “getting the gospel”). True, but there is no objective salvation to depend upon as long as it is does not apply to everyone. It needs to be true whether we believe it or not. As long as some can be lost eternally we are statistically in grave danger of missing the boat or deceiving ourselves or falling away. But the consequences are unthinkable and so most simply do not.
Maybe less so than the Calvinist, but those who take a free-will position must also face the heart of the matter if all are not in the end saved from the inconceivable torment of an eternal hell. The truth is they too must rely upon a subjective hope that they have enough saving faith to not fall away or be self-deceived and land in an eternal state of separation from God.
I think John Eldredge was drinking in a bit of this objective hope based in the very purpose of God, the ONE purpose of God. Even if we hold to the doctrine of eternal conscious torment it just doesn’t register in our souls like Irenaeus’s statement that God has one purpose and goal enmeshed within His desire to be glorified. And that purpose requires the restoration of His offspring. This exalts God, makes the cross 100% effectual and victorious, and finally delivers a good news that is truly good and truly news because it is finally objective and irrevocable.
Perhaps soon the “life” Eldredge speaks about will no longer be rare but explode upon the earth like it did in the days of the early church when these ideas flowed among God’s people; the idea that the “elect” were chosen by God to be a blessing and a “kingdom of priests” to every nation on earth– to bind up the broken-hearted and release the captives to be “fully alive” in Christ. This is the glory of God!
Our next post will cover some of the ways in which John Eldredge by his own statements points us to the Story of God as one of complete cosmic redemption and restoration. As he says, “The Story is written on our hearts.”