A Serial Killer’s Daughter | Book Review


Dennis Rader is a serial murderer whose self-chosen moniker, BTK, was an acronym for “bind, torture, kill.” Between 1974 and 1991, he killed ten people in Wichita, Kansas, including two children. Throughout this period, he lived an outwardly normal life, working full time, raising a family, volunteering with Boy Scouts, and serving as president of his church council.

Kerri Rawson is BTK’s daughter. In A Serial Killer’s Daughter, she recounts her life with Rader until the moment that life fell apart on February 25, 2005, when her father was arrested. Over the next decade, she suffered anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder as she attempted to reconcile the man she knew as her father with the man whose crimes revealed a monster.

At first, she could not believe that her father was the killer. Over time, however, acknowledgement of her dad’s crimes shined a retrospective light on her father’s temper, secrecy, and controlling tendencies in her growing up years, as well as her lifelong night terrors and overdeveloped sense of stranger danger.

Looking at the past through the lens of her dad’s crimes, she was horrified when she realized that he had killed two victims while on a Boy Scouts outing with his son, that he had killed a neighbor several doors down, and that he had used the church basement to store equipment he used in murders as well as to stage a corpse for bondage photos.

True crime stories typically focus on the perpetrator or his victims. What makes A Serial Killer’s Daughter unique is its focus on the perpetrator’s family members, who also are victims of his crimes. Without in any way downplaying the suffering of Rader’s ten victims or their families, Rawson tells the story of her and her family’s victimization in unsparing terms. The book includes several examples of letters between her and father, as well as family pictures from before the arrest.

Rawson’s memoir is a memoir of faith. In addition to professional counseling, meditation on Scripture and participation in church helped her put her life back together in the decade following her father’s arrest. They eventually led her to forgive her father for what he did to his family, a forgiveness she experienced as a healing of her emotional wounds. Even so, she states outright that Dennis Rader deserves the life imprisonment he was sentenced to because of the enormity of his crimes.

A Serial Killer’s Daughter makes for engrossing reading, not because it reports on Rader’s crimes in salacious detail, but because it chronicles the way one man’s evil rebounded on his own beloved daughter.

Book Reviewed
Kerri Rawson, A Serial Killer’s Daughter: My Story of Faith, Love, and Overcoming (Nashville, TN: Nelson Books, 2019).

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

Advertisements

Praying through All the Seasons of Life | Influence Podcast


The Book of Psalms is the prayer book of the Church. It shows Christians all the ways to pray through all the seasons of life, the good and the bad, the high and the low. No wonder the New Testament quotes it more than any other Old Testament book!

In this episode of the Influence Podcast, Dr. George O. Wood–aka, Dad–explains how to read the Book of Psalms for preaching and pastoral ministry. Dr. Wood is chairman of the World Assemblies of God Fellowship, former general superintendent of the Assemblies of God (USA), and author of A Psalm in Your Heart.

P.S. This episode of the Influence Podcast is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

The Fire That Consumes | Book Review


Edward William Fudge’s The Fire That Consumes (3rded.) makes an exhaustive—and occasionally exhausting—biblical and historical case for a conditionalist understanding of hell. Traditionalism teaches that “God will make the wicked immortal, to suffer unending conscious torment in hell.” By contrast, conditionalism teaches that “the wicked will finally and truly die, perish, and become extinct forever, through a destructive process that encompasses whatever degree and duration of conscious torment God might sovereign and just impose in each case.” According to Fudge, the duration of hell’s torments is the only issue that divides the two camps.

The biblical component of Fudge’s case occupies the first 23 chapters of the book, in which Fudge surveys passages from the Old Testament, intertestamental literature, and New Testament that bear on his argument. The historical component occupies the next 11 chapters, starting with the Apostolic Fathers and ending with late-twentieth century conditionalists. Chapter 35 summarizes the argument of the entire book, and chapter 36 offers several brief thoughts about how the debate should be conducted going forward.

Though summarizing a nearly 400-page book is a hazardous endeavor, it seems to me that Fudge’s cumulative case makes the following basic points:

    1. The Bible is the final authority to settle theological debates about hell.
    1. The Bible promises “eternal life” and “immortality” to those who put their faith in Jesus Christ for salvation.
    1. By contrast, the Bible portrays the fate of the wicked as “destruction” and “death.” Since the Bible does not teach that the wicked have “eternal life,” the images of destruction and death are best understood as “extinction forever.” This coheres with the image of “fire” often used to describe hell, for fire consumes what it burns.
    1. Applied to the fate of the wicked, the adjective “eternal” points not to an everlasting process of being punished, as traditionalists argue, but to the everlasting result of a terminal process of punishment.
    1. Though church history is not the final authority in the debate over hell, it does indicate that conditionalism was a widespread view among church fathers prior to Augustine. Since Augustine, traditionalism has been the majority position.
    1. At the present time, conditionalism is gaining adherents among evangelical theologians. Even traditionalists argue that many of the conditionalists—Fudge himself, John Stott, John Wenham, Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, and the like—are otherwise evangelicals in good standing. In other words, the issue at stake in the debate is not biblical inerrancy, the Trinity, Incarnation, Atonement, or other first-level Christian doctrine, but rather a second-level doctrine, namely, how long hell endures.

The bulk of Fudge’s book centers on points 2 and 3 above, which can be summarized quickly but takes a long time to document.

Whether or not one agrees with Fudge, The Fire That Consumes is essential reading for anyone interested in a biblical doctrine of hell. This is admitted by traditionalists themselves, who often take Fudge’s writings as the point of departure in their critiques of conditionalism. For the traditionalist view, I would recommend the multi-author Hell Under Fire, edited by Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson. It interacts with an earlier edition of Fudge’s book, and Fudge’s third edition replies in turn to its critiques.

Book Reviewed
Edward William Fudge, The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment, 3rded. (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2011).

P.S. If you found this review helpful, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

Growing With | Book Review


Kara Powell and Steven Argue begin Growing With by pinpointing the dilemma our kids face in the crucial season between 13 and 29 years of age: “On the one hand, our kids’ sophistication has accelerated and it seems like they are getting older earlier; but on the other hand, they feel less mature as the typical markers of adulthood are now delayed.” In other words, the transition to adulthood begins earlier and lasts longer in this generation than in previous generations.

How we parent our children changes as they age. Powell and Argue define “Growing With parenting” as “a mutual journey of intentional growth for both ourselves and our children that trusts God to transform us all.” Growing With helps Christian parents navigate those changes by describing three stages of development our kids go through.

In the “learner” stage (ages 13–18), our kids enter “a season of rapid physical, emotional, relational, intellectual, and spiritual growth and change.” As parents, our primary role in this stage is as “teachers,” not in the sense of telling them what to do, but in the sense of “learner-centered teaching.”

In the “explorer” stage (ages 18–23), our kids “often venture for the first time away from home or home-oriented routines to pursue their goals, relationships, and beliefs.” During this stage, parents’ primary role is as “guides,” shifting “our parenting focus away from setting goals for our kids and toward guiding them on the journey of setting their own goals.”

Finally, in the “focusers” stage (ages 23–29), our kids “begin to gain a clearer sense of who they are and have likely made educational, vocational, and relational choices that set them on particular trajectories.” Our primary role is as “resourcers.” Our kids come to us for advice because “we have lived through the life events they now anticipate, including career advancement, marriage, parenthood, renting or buying a home, and financial investments.”

As these changes occur, Powell and Argue urge parents to pay “special attention to three keys areas of our child’s exploration: family, faith, and freedom” [emphasis in original]. Parents who do so engage in what the authors call the three “dynamic verbs” of “withing,” “faithing,” and “adulting.”

      • Withing: “a family’s growth in supporting each other as children grow more independent”
      • Faithing: “a child’s growth in owning and embodying their own journey with God as they encounter new experiences and information”
      • Adulting: “a child’s growth in agency as they embrace opportunities to shape the world around them”

The unique contribution Growing With  makes to the literature of Christian parenting is its detailed advice about what shapes withing, faithing, and adulting take in the learner, explorer, and focuser stages of our kids’ lives, and how we should parent as a result. This advice takes up the bulk of the book (chapters 3–8). In this review, I’m only focusing on the organizing framework. You’ll have to read the book to get Powell and Argue’s detailed advice.

Growing With is a valuable read for parents of adolescents and young adults. It describes the changes our kids are going through, and what kinds of major life choices they are beginning to make using a memorable vocabulary to describe both the changes and the choices. Throughout, the authors urge parents to keep the lines of relationship with our kids open, even when — perhaps especially when — they begin to make choices we disagree with. In that vein, I wish the authors had provided clearer direction to Christian parents about kids and LGBT issues, which are a much bigger deal today than when most of us were growing up.

I close by quoting three mantras the authors encourage parents to tell themselves:

      1. “Today I will attempt to be in the right place at the right time.” This means knowing what stage your kids are in and what role your parenting should take as a result.
      2. “Today I will allow grace to give me courage to take a next faithful step.”
      3. “Today I have what it takes to be the best parent for my kid.”

It’s never too late to be a better parent, and Growing With offers valuable advice for better parenting our kids as they emerge into young adulthood.

Book Reviewed
Kara Powell and Steven Argue, Growing With: Every Parent’s Guide to Helping Teenagers and Young Adults Thrive in Their Faith, Family, and Future (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2019).

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

P.P.S. This review is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

Two Views on Hell | Book Review


Two Views of Hell is a debate between Edward W. Fudge and Robert A. Peterson about how long hell lasts. Fudge is a leading evangelical advocate for conditionalism, which teaches that the wicked will be destroyed body and soul in hell. He is the author of The Fire That Consumes, now in its third edition, the best single-volume treatment of conditonalism. Peterson is a leading evangelical advocate of traditionalism, which teaches the eternal conscious torment of the wicked in hell. He is the author of Hell on Trial, probably the best single-author treatment of traditionalism from a Reformed or Calvinist perspective currently available.

The debate follows a point-counterpoint format. Fudge opens Part One of Two Views on Hell with “The Case for Conditionalism.” Peterson then offers “A Traditionalist Response to Conditionalism.” Part Two reverses the order. Peterson makes “The Case for Traditionalism,” then Fudge offers “A Conditionalist Response to Traditionalism.” Each author makes his case on the basis of exegesis of relevant biblical texts combined with systematic theological considerations. Peterson also makes an argument from the testimony of leading theologians, but with Fudge, I don’t think such an argument is persuasive as to the truth of Peterson’s case, though it certainly explains why traditionalism is traditional.

To oversimplify the debate, the crucial issue is the meaning of the words deathand destruction on the one hand, and eternal on the other. (I’m sure Fudge and Peterson would blanch at my simplification, for they bring many more arguments to bear than just disputes over these words. But, I think my admitted oversimplification helps illuminate the essence of the debate.) For Fudge, the words death  and destruction, which constitute the bulk of the Bible’s descriptions of the fate of the wicked, mean the literal cessation of bodily and spiritual existence. At the Final Judgment, God will pronounce sentence on the wicked and they will be annihilated, for lack of a better term. By contrast, Peterson understands the same words in terms of separation, loss, and ruin, not annihilation. Fudge argues that traditionalism assumes an unbiblical doctrine of the immortality of the soul. Because the soul exists immortally, whether it is saved or damned, hell must last eternally.

Peterson, on the other hand, believes that hell is eternal because the Bible speaks of “eternal punishment.” He cites ten biblical texts—two from the Old Testament, eight from the New—that lay the biblical foundation of the case for traditionalism: Isaiah 66:2–4; Daniel 12:1–2; Matthew 18:6–9; 25:31–46; Mark 9:42–48; 2 Thessalonians 5:1–10; Jude 7, 13; Revelation 14:9–11; and 20:10, 14–15. Although these are not Peterson’s or Fudge’s analogies, the tradtionalist hell is like life imprisonment without possibility of parole, while the conditionalist hell is like capital punishment. Both are final and irreversible, but whereas one is an eternal process of punishment, the other is a temporal sentence with eternal consequences.

If you’ve read any contemporary books on hell by evangelical authors, this book contains no surprises. Each author treads a well-worn path of argumentation. Each author makes the standard arguments for his position and the standard relies to his opponent’s. To me, despite the rigor of his arguments, Peterson came off a bit tetchy in his reply to Fudge and a bit dismissive of Fudge’s previous writings when he made his own case. By the end of the debate—that is, in his reply to Peterson—even Fudge seemed a bit peeved. One of the frustrating things about debates such as this is the mutual stupefaction each expresses at how the other could possibly believe what he does.

While I appreciate the scholarship Fudge and Peterson bring to their respective cases, this is not the book I would recommend if you’re looking for only one book about the evangelical debate on hell. I would start with Four Views on Hell, 2nd ed., edited by Preston Sprinkle (2016). It’s more recent, contains an argument for universalism and hints at a case for something like a traditional view that is more amenable to Arminians. If you’re collecting a library on the debate, however—as I seem to be doing—include this one.

Book Reviewed
Edward William Fudge and Robert A. Peterson, Two Views of Hell: A Biblical and Theological Debate (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000).

P.S. If you like my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

Four Views on Hell, 2nd ed. | Book Review


Four Views on Hell presents a point-counterpoint debate between advocates of the three main interpretations of the doctrine of hell among evangelical theologians. Denny Burk makes the case for “eternal conscious torment,” John G. Stackhouse Jr. for “terminal punishment,” and Robin A. Parry for “universal salvation.” Jerry L. Walls’ argument for a Protestant version of Purgatory rounds out the “four views,” but while interesting, it is out of place in this book, since Purgatory—whether in its Catholic or Protestant version—is heaven’s antechamber, not hell’s.

In his argument for hell as eternal conscious torment, Burk begins by telling a “parable” about a how people would respond if they came across a man pulling the legs off a grasshopper, frog, bird, puppy, or baby. Most people would respond with increasing horror to these incidents, and that horror would increase their desire to intervene in the situation. Burks argues that this parable demonstrates “the seriousness of sin is not measured merely by the sin itself…but by the value and the worth of the one being sinned against” [emphasis in original]. That is why “to sin against an infinitely glorious being [i.e., God] is an infinitely heinous offense that is worthy of an infinite heinous punishment.”

Burk recognizes that this parable represents a “theological conjecture” not explicitly taught in Scripture (though consistent with it). So the bulk of his argument identifies ten key biblical texts that “deal explicitly with hell and with the final state of the wicked”: Isaiah 66:22–24; Daniel 12:2–3; Matthew 18:6–9, 25:31–46; Mark 9:42–48; 2 Thessalonians 1:6–10; Jude 7, 13; Revelation 14:9–11; and 20:10, 14–15. He argues that each of these texts presents hell as “final separation” from God, “unending experience,” and  “just retribution.” Burk nowhere appeals to the immortality of the soul in his argument. Instead, in his discussion of the Isaiah passage, he infers that “this scene seems to assume that God’s enemies have been given a body fit for an unending punishment.”

Stackhouse makes the case for what he calls “terminal punishment,” which is also known as “conditionalism,” “conditional immortality,” and “annihilationism.” Stackhouse’s term, it seems to me, is more apt than these others because it clearly identifies both the nature (punishment) and duration (terminal) of hell in distinction from the eternal conscious torment position.

The core of his biblical argument focuses on the meanings of the words eternal, destroy, and death. Regarding the first word, Stackhouse distinguishes “an event or action that occurs for only a segment of time” and “the result of that event or action.” Advocates of eternal conscious torment believe hell is eternal in the first sense, the segment of time being everlasting. Stackhouse argues, however, that it is the result that matters. “Eternal punishment” is not an eternal process of being punished but a terminal punishment that has eternal consequences. He goes on to argue that second and third words “speak of the destiny of the lost as termination, end, disappearance, eradication, annihilation, and vanishing.” Such terminal punishment rules out the doctrine of the soul’s immortality. Stackhouse also discusses terminal punishment in terms of the finite duration of Christ’s death on the cross and of the goodness of God.

Parry makes the case for universal salvation, “the view that in the end God will reconcile all people to himself through Christ.”. This is “not some new-fangled liberal theology,” he writes, but rather “an ancient Christian theological tradition that in the early church stood alongside annihilation and eternal torment as a viable Christian opinion.” It should be distinguished from the version of universalism that teaches all religions are salvific. It is Christocentric, not pluralistic.

Parry argues that “a universalist doctrine of hell makes good sense” of “the biblical metanarrative, the grand story that runs from Genesis to Revelation”: creation, fall, redemption, and consummation. He cites Colossians 1:16–20 as one of many examples of what he takes to be universalist reasoning. He also responds to prooftexts commonly interpreted to be anti-universalistic: Mark 9:42–50; Matthew 25:31–46; 2 Thessalonians 1:5–10; Revelation 14:9–11, and 20:10–15. If God finally saves all in Christ, then what is hell? It is “judgment followed by restoration” [emphasis in original]. It is ultimately “restorative,” even if “retributive” for a time. Obviously, universalism requires a commitment to “post-mortem salvation,” which Parry acknowledges is consistent with Scripture, though not taught explicitly by it.

Of these three views, eternal conscious torment is the majority tradition of Christianity, while terminal punishment and universal salvation are minority voices. Each position can find advocates in the first few centuries of the church’s existence, but each one is exclusive of the others. If one is right, in other words, the other two are wrong.

My goal in this review is simply to introduce the main positions in the current debate. I would like to register one more caveat, however. (The first was that Walls’ argument for Purgatory was out of place in this debate.) The second also relates to Walls. Burk presents one version of the traditional view of hell, in which eternal conscious torment is warranted because sin is an offense against an infinite God. In other writings—especially Hell: The Logic of Damnation and Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory—Walls offers a different warrant for hell based on human choice. Picking up on C. S. Lewis’ remark that the door to hell is locked from the inside, Walls argues that hell is eternal because its inhabitants refuse to repent. This is the fourth view of hell that should’ve been presented in this book.

Still, Four Views on Hell is a useful one-volume introduction to the state of the debate about hell among self-identified evangelical theologians. Its point-counterpoint format helps readers see both what the arguments and counterarguments are for each position. Although frustrating, working through the best arguments and deepest critiques of each position can result in readers developing a more informed biblical, theological, and philosophical understanding of this important doctrine.

Book Reviewed
Preston Sprinkle, ed., Four Views on Hell, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016).

P.S. If you liked my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

Rethinking Hell | Book Review


Rethinking Hell is a compendium of readings by evangelical authors who advocate conditionalism. Conditionalism—also known as “conditional immortality” and “annihilationism”—is the belief that hell is “the wicked’s final total destruction,” not their “unending conscious torture,” as Edward W. Fudge states the distinction in his essay. It is a minority position among evangelical Christians, but one that has been gaining ground since the publication of Fudge’s The Fire That Consumes in 1984.

Because conditionalism differs from the traditional understanding of hell as eternal conscious torment, and because traditionalism is far and away the majority position among Christians, including evangelicals and Pentecostals (my theological tribes), it might be helpful to summarize why conditionalists think theirs is the correct biblical interpretation. Glenn A. People’s essay, “Introduction to Evangelical Conditionalism,” outlines its “principle arguments” under four headings:

  1. Immortality: “Eternal life in the sense of life without end is not a natural human possession. We are bereft of it because of sin, and God promises to give it to those who are united to Christ. Immortality is therefore not universal or inherent but conditional.” See, for example, 2 Timothy 1:9b–10.
  2. A World Without Evil: “The biblical writers anticipate a time when everything that exists will be united under Christ,” for example, Ephesians 1:9–10 and 1 Corinthians 15:24–28. “Creation itself will be brought into a state of sinless perfection to the praise of God’s glory, and the dualistic portrait of eternity with heaven on one side and hell on the other side finds no home in Scripture….”
  3. Substitutionary Atonement: “The New Testament is replete with the language of Jesus dying for sin, for sinners, and for us. Whatever else this might mean, it at least means that in Christ’s passion and ultimately his death we see what comes of sin,” for example, 1 Peter 3:18.
  4. Destruction: “[E]vangelical conditionalists observe that Scripture uses a range of language and images to refer to the fate of humanity without salvation through Christ: punishment, darkness, fire, death, destruction, being blotted out, and so on. Without any doubt, however, the overwhelming preponderance of the clearest such language speaks of the final death and destruction of the enemies of God.” For example, see Matthew 10:28, 2 Thessalonians 1:9, 2 Peter 2:6.

Arguments 1, 3, and 4 recur through Rethinking Hell’s twenty-two chapters. In addition to these biblical arguments, several of the chapters make historical arguments to the effect that conditionalism was a live option among Christianity’s theologians in the second and third centuries. Only with Augustine in the fourth century does eternal conscious torment become the majority point of view, one shared by Augustine’s descendants in the Middle Ages, the Reformation, and Evangelical Revivalism.

At a philosophical level, conditionalists argue that eternal conscious torment is disportionate punishment, thus violating the character of God and the lex talionis principle of biblical law. Traditionalists typically respond in one of two ways to this: First, that an eternity of punishment is appropriate, since sin is an offense against an infinite God. This is a longstanding reply, memorably articulated by Thomas Aquinas. More recently, a second reply has been offered: an eternity of punishment is warranted because in hell, sinners continue to rebel against God. As C. S. Lewis memorably put it, “The doors of hell are locked from the inside.”

The most common objection to conditionalism is the use of the adjective “eternal” to describe the fate of the wicked. Jesus juxtaposed “eternal life” and “eternal punishment” in Matthew 25:46. Since Augustine, this has been taken to show that the life of the righteous and the punishment of the wicked are both everlasting. The standard conditionalist reply is that the consequences of hell, that is, annihilation, are everlasting, not the experience of hell, that is, punishment. While this understanding may work in many cases, traditionalists argue that it doesn’t work for Revelation 20:10, which speaks of the devil, the beast, and the false prophet being thrown into “the lack of burning sulphur,” where they will be “tormented day and night for ever and ever.” In 20:15, anyone “whose name was not found written in the book of life” was thrown into the lake as well, presumably to suffer the same fate.

I mention these objections and replies to illustrate basic elements in the debate between traditionalists and conditionalists.

Rethinking Hell is a good book, though if you are looking to purchase and read just one book advocating conditional immortality, I would recommend the third edition of Edward W. Fudge’s The Fire That Consumes. Advocates in both camps agree that this is the classic modern statement of the position. Still, this book has its value, even if—or perhaps especially if—you do not agree with its conclusions.

Book Reviewed
Christopher M. Date, Gregory G. Stump, and Joshua W. Anderson, eds., Rethinking Hell: Readings in Evangelical Conditionalism (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2014).

P.S. If you liked my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.