The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Q&A with Derek Flood- author of "Healing the Gospel"


It’s important to remember the the OT is not one book, it is a collection of books written over a long expanse of time by people who disagree with each other. So we have one voice saying that God punishes bad people (the law) and another voice saying “Hey, but I didn’t do anything bad so why am I suffering? And why is this guy over here who is bad having a great life!?” (Psalms, Job, etc.).

So what we have is an argument, (in fact multiple arguments throughout the OT) as people try to make sense of their world. In this particular argument we begin with the simplistic “good boys and girls are rewarded and are rich and happy and have lots to eat, and bad people get killed and suffer and are poor and sick.” Other writers of the OT pretty quickly realize that this just does not line up with reality. And so they say “Hey God, what’s going on!?” I think we can also recognize that this does not line up with reality, even if we wish it did.

This does cause a dilemma: why do bad things happen to good people? This is a question that runs throughout the Bible itself. It’s a real problem. Part of the answer we see in Jesus is that God is not the one behind the suffering and hurt, but rather this is the realm of the devil (the OT does not really have this idea of the devil and so it needs to attribute evil to God instead which is deeply problematic as w have seen). Instead we see in Jesus that God is the one who is working to heal and restore and reconcile, and calling us to do that too.

You might say that the NT tells us which of the many conflicting narratives of the OT is the right one. But then we need to read the NT first and then read the OT through that lens of Jesus rather than what we have learned to do which is read the OT and project those wrong values on to Jesus.

I’d like to suggest this however: Rather than trying to make sense of every single verse, it is much more important to grasp the big picture narrative of what God is doing in Jesus. This is all about grace, grace, grace.

The way we really learn about this is NOT through reading the Bible. It is through loving people. Really hearing them, really caring. That’s how we really are able to GET Jesus and what he was doing, and where his heart was at. Then we get why is was constantly breaking OT laws (yes really breaking them) and why he was saying “The law says this, but it’s B.S. and this is what I say instead.” If that shocks you it should. It shocked the religious folks of his time too and that’s why they called him “blasphemer, devil, sinner, traitor” and wanted to kill him. That’s why the Pharisees studied the Bible and completely missed what God was doing, and why the illiterate crowds got it.

If we read the Bible, we need to learn to read it like Jesus did. But Jesus spent most of his time just caring for people. That’s where we need to focus.

I also think we need to learn to embrace doubt and uncertainty more. That’s really hard for me as an evangelical, and especially as a theologian because I’m supposed to have an answer for everything, for every verse. All in a perfect theological system. I think a lot of us here feel that way. But maybe it’s okay if we get the big picture of grace and live in that. Maybe its okay if we don’t have everything figured out. Maybe it’s okay if we are even *wrong *about some stuff. Cause then we would need to lean on trust/faith in God and not in our perfect system.

Pretty much everyone here has questioned hell. I bet most question it because you care for those who would go there. So we object our of love. We question. But then the evangelical in us wants to fix our system so that it is again all neat and perfectly in order. It’s a NEW perfect system. We correct that one error, and now everything lines up all neat.

But what if that questioning was a good thing? What if rather than fixing it all, we instead just stayed open to growing? What if asking questions was not something to get past, but the sign of a healthy and strong faith? What if faith was not about certainty, but vulnerability?



This is brilliant and clear. This is the sort of writing that drew me to your blog. I can only say Amen to all of the above.



Ok Derek; so now I have another question for you. Should we just chuck out the parts of the OT that don’t seem to line up with the NT, or how do we decide which parts are reliable and which aren’t?

I mean, isn’t it possible that the OT is correct, and that we just don’t understand it adequately? :confused:


Hard to keep up here! Caleb so ably represents my vantage point, but so does Derek at most points. My sense again is that much of the differences are about semantics. My sense is that the only way we can see God’s purpose at work in actions that are evil and abusive, is not to say that God reaches down and carries it out, but rather that he permits it.

When Gen. 50 observes that “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good,” is there no sympathetic way that this has a degree of valid insight that is reflected throughout the Scripture? My sense is that exegeting Jesus or Paul to have no sense that God works in painful judgments is much more difficult than exegetically arguing that God and Love will win. Thus, I think the classic universalist view of reinterpreting rather than dismissing judgment is most effective.

(I am making no sense of Ruth’s argument that ‘punishments’ that are moral for us to administer, are not o.k. for God, since Jesus offers no support for divine judgment. This seems to me backwards, since my core belief is that we should follow Jesus and God. Thus what is wrong for God would be wrong for us.)


Cathrine, I think I follow the more classic Calvinist view regarding God hardening people in order to achieve certain means. Obviously that’s problematic for Derek. But just to be clear, I don’t believe every act is determined by God. I only mean that God at times in history has intervened and even hardened people so that his goals would be achieved. That is why I think if people are going to argue against Calvinism, it will have to be through philosophy. Trying to omit Paul’s ideas here in Romans 9 seems a bit of a stretch.

Whatever the case, it makes me getting the book (soon as I can afford it) exciting. I really think the trajectory argument has a strong case to be made, but like so many things, it will take lots of thinking through. I think my issues are more philosophical rather than exegetical. I’m totally fine with saying the OT and the NT has errors and we need to sift through them. But I’m obviously struggling with the philosophical parts. I think my setback has been this loose language that God is not punitive or retributive - when as I see things in life, those things can be good.


Hey gang,

I’m sure we could continue this indefinitely, but I’m gonna have to bow out at this point.

It’s been a great discussion (four pages, wow!) and I’ve really enjoyed hanging out with you all. Thanks to everyone for making this such a great conversation!



Thanks, Derek for your willingness to hang in there on this discussion. And to everyone else as well.

Auggy, re: your description of justified violence in the situation of a home invasion where my wife’s life is threatened: I completely hear you and sympathize with that perspective. I am actually very torn in all of this and find my self half-way between the two sides that have been articulated. Its actually very difficult and I feel as if I’m in a desert now spiritually as I’m reassessing so many things. It started out with questioning the doctrine of Hell, and that opened the flood gates as far as asking the questions that for so long I’ve put off. For me, the first main question is of how to best read the Bible (Inerrant vs. “Inspired” and Authoritative in a unique way vs. “inspired” in a way that is still going on today). The second question is how to best think of the atonement. (And the problem of violence intersects with both of these.)

So here are some books on my reading list that reflect these issues:


First, two articles that I read this morning:

C. S. Lewis on Inerrancy, Inspiration, and Historicity of Scripture

Exodus and the problem of historiography by Peter Enns

And the books:
Inspiration and Incarnation:Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament by Peter Enns

Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God by Paul Copan

Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today by N. T. Wright

God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist? by David T. Lamb

The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture by Christian Smith

Sacred Word, Broken Word: Biblical Authority and the Dark Side of Scripture by Kenton Sparks

The Atonement:

Problems With Atonement: The Origins Of, And Controversy About, The Atonement Doctrine by Stephen Finlan

Stricken by God?: Nonviolent Identification and the Victory of Christ by Brad Jersak and Michael Hardin

The Sacrifice of Jesus: Understanding Atonement Biblically by Christian Eberhart

and of course Healing the Gospel: A Radical Vision for Grace, Justice, and the Cross by Derek Flood

Above all I want to seek what is true and what is good. Blessings to you all!





Please don’t think that I don’t understand Derek or your own opinions regarding the absolute destruction caused by abuse. I do. I’m mostly objecting to the means by which Derek gets there. I still feel that the conclusion has some great merit to it but needs to be “altered” in order to make it correct. The way it stands I find it false. HOWEVER, that does not mean the real subject matter of the conclusion is false – only that the arguments made to get there are.

This was a frustrating discussion for me (as well as for Derek). On one hand I stated that Derek seems to affirm punishment and he objected. Then later, the way I understood his reaction to your response regarding how you discipline your son was to me a way of saying some forms of punishment are good – so long as they’re not abusive; I concur.
But when it comes to the conclusion, it suddenly is that God is not punitive. Like I said, why not say God is neither violent nor abusive?

I think what I’m really getting at is that there is a hybrid position (in the middle) that allows for God being punitive and retributive in order to restore (EU) and the call for us to have enemy love and not act out in hatred against our enemies. I think EU does that quite nicely.

When it comes to God hardening hearts and whether God can use evil to punish evil in order to restore them, that’s my own opinion and I would not say I KNOW. It’s only what I’ve made sense of.

This will probably hard for me to articulate and I’m sure will come off as esoteric, but talking with Bob last night I shared with him some of my thoughts about why I have difficulties with the arguments:

**In a perfect world, which is where God resides, there is no evil and God acts a particular way (no punishment, no anger, no condemnation) for it’s not required.

In an imperfect world, which is where we reside, there is evil and God acts a particular way (no punishment, no anger, no condemnation) because it’s healing.**

My issue is that this seems wrong. I understand Cor 13 to include that love gets angry (slowly) but it gets angry and therefore God does act differently in the imperfect world than in the perfect world. I hold the view that we ought to be angry when great injustice is done. So I find that love, which is slow to anger, is a good thing.

My point is that it does seem that anger is unnecessary in a perfect world but it’s a good function in an imperfect world. Thus I see God doing things (punishment, judgment and condemnation) in the imperfect world that he would not do in the perfect world (conditional). In a perfect world, call it heaven, it would not make sense to say God is angry…what’s he angry about? And this seems to be Jesus’ and Paul’s words when they seem to argue, “don’t forgive and you won’t be forgiven” or those who persist in doing evil there will be wrath.

The argument that God turns the other cheek, it an argument for enemy love. But that’s the debate - what does love do? And I argue, love does whatever is necessary including lying to Nazis to save families yet we know God does not endorse lying. So conditions change things and we should be keen to that. I’m detecting a form of legalism in these arguments which is evident to me because conditions or motives do not matter.



I agree with this and find myself in the hybrid/middle position as well. I do think part of the problem is clearly articulating punishment, and it’s taken a while to see where Derek’s coming from.

So from what I can gather, Derek does not believe that punishment is bad (the example of disciplining my son for example) though I don’t know if he clearly articulated this. What he clearly believes to be bad is abuse, which is traumatic.

Now when the Bible talks about “punishment” it is often portrayed in ways that are traumatic and abusive. So it seems that the problem is not punishment, but punishment which is abusive.

And I think he is right in the fact that there is a certain amount of disconnect between much of the punishment of the Old Testament and the gospels’ picture of Jesus. But I think he goes too far in this area, because I think he either ignores or explains away much of Jesus’ judgmental/punitive language. (Ex. the sheep and the goats being hyperbole or ironic or some other figure of speech which was designed to make a point, though not advocate for actual punishment).

But I do think he has very good points about reconsidering the punishment narratives of the Bible and questioning the morality of these accounts. Which then leads to questioning their historicity. But that leads to some tough questions, like what do we do with the Exodus, if we take a reading like Derek’s. That was pretty punitive. The plagues and all. So then what actually happened? Were there no plagues? Were natural disasters wrongly attributed to God? Was there no Exodus at all? Was there a historical core that was trumped up by the writers of Exodus (if it wasn’t Moses)?

There is the problem of the curses to the Israelites in Deut 28 that Derek mentioned. Have you read that lately? Verses 53-57 talk about women eating their children and their afterbirth. It would be nice to be able to read this whole chapter as simply natural consequence that will occur if God’s people decide to go their own way (I really would like to read it that way) but that does not seem to be the natural reading of the text. The natural reading is that God is causing all these things to happen.

There’s the story of God sending 2 bears to maul 42 youths because they called Elisha “bald-head”. Is that what God is like?

Now it is taken to another level when God calls his own people to engage in violence. It is one thing for God to do it; it is another thing for his people to do it. But not just killing a rapist in self-defense, not just engaging as a combatant in a just war. Which brings us to Exodus 32 in which the Golden Calf narrative, which begins somewhat comedically with Aaron’s response to Moses “Then they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire and out came this calf”, quickly becomes horrific when God orders “Each man strap a sword to this side. Go back and forth though the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor. The Levites did as Moses commanded and that day about three thousand of the people died. Then Moses said, “You have been set apart to the LORD today, for you were against your own sons and brothers, and he has blessed you this day”.

What do we do with this? My best attempts of dealing with this passage and the passages about killing the surrounding nations, was that God had to treat the nation of Israel as an army. In armies/war the punishments are more severe, perhaps because the stakes are higher, treason or desertion is dealt with through execution (at least it has up until recently, I believe). God had to do whatever it takes to establish his people in Israel, to set up the means through which the entire world would be saved (Christ). But I’m doubting that this explanation does the texts justice.

If you place yourself in that scene of the slaughter after the golden calf, I mean how horrible would that be. What does it call to mind? The Rwandan genocide and people hacking others to death with machetes. And if God justified it once, why wouldn’t he justify that again. And apparently many people have in the history of mankind since then.

Now, all that being said, we still have to deal with the reality that it is an incredibly violent world that we live in. Violence is built into the fabric of it. We could pass the buck to Adam and Eve or to humanity in general, and say that this was not God’s intention, but I don’t think that really flies. God is the one who set up the conditions for an imperfect creation. And God stands by and lets it happens. Which could lead to the view of a passive God as a great enabler, for example the man or woman who does nothing as their spouse cruelly abuses their children. But I think there’s a better way to see it.

I personally tend toward the belief that (ala Talbott) God set up the world as best he could for the development of persons. However much we wish God could have created perfect humans with free-will in paradise with no ability to fall, that may not have been logically possible, and God had to create and perfect finite beings through a process. Which makes sense. Look at the process he had to go through in creating the universe, our solar system, evolution of animals. (My apologies to 6 day creationists). God is a god of process. So maybe a temporary universe of death and freewill was the only way. The only way to cultivate such values as love, courage, self-denial. As I see it, two of the main themes of the bible are Life and Death, Life and Death, Life and Death. Maybe this world is in some ways a huge parable of deeper spiritual realities which we must all go through.

I think key to this is two-fold. God comes down to our level and experiences our pain and death with us. Through Jesus on the cross. God does not stay above the fray. He demonstrates that he is here with us, and he feels our pain, the pain of death and suffering and alienation, and flesh being ripped off our bodies. But then there is resurrection, and new life, and all the pain of this life will be simply like the birth pains of labor, which are severe, but are forgotten once the baby is born. (It is in part, because of what I see as this process that God is involved in, the creation of persons, that I am a purgatorial universalist. I don’t see a hell like Dante’s inferno that is just temporary. I believe it will be an almost psychological pain that is ultimately refining and redeeming and transformative, Christ being there with us allowing us to see the pain we’ve cause others through our selfishness, standing at the door knocking, waiting for us to repent, be healed and engage in a process of seeking forgiveness from the ones we’ve hurt).


You’ve worded well, what I have been thinking. :wink:



Kudos for developing such an excellent reading list, and raising perceptive questions (my own take on the Old Testament texts of terror is in the OT paper on my page). These are challenging issues to try to sort through, but I doubt that those with tender hearts and keen minds can avoid wrestling with such difficult questions, and asking what are the main themes of the Biblical outlook and how to hold them together.



I’m so happy you wrote this. I have some of the very same inklings – not something I can prove or know for sure but I feel great wonder and hope that the end of this age and the dawn of the next will be… how to say it… I don’t even know?

Years ago I was reading Orson Scott Card’s “The Worthing Saga” and one of the characters could read everyone else’s minds. There was a particular scene involving a young boy that was leading his first hunting trip with all of the older men and boys of his town. There were a few traumatic things that happened and at the end of the day the boy felt very badly that he had let everyone down. In his mind he was replaying all the bad things he imagined everyone was thinking about him – he was bewildered and confused.

The mind reader allowed this boy to re-live the day only this time he could hear the actual thoughts (hopes, fears, and some of the personal background causing the emotions) of every member of the hunting party. It was completely transformative for him. He felt the feelings of the others from their backgrounds and points of view and he knew why they responded as they did. As a result, his feelings of mistrust, animosity, etc. were replaced with true understanding, love, and compassion. The day suddenly made complete sense to him and he was overjoyed.

As I was reading this scene in the book, 1 Corinthians 13 came to mind: “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.”

I imagined a day of unwinding similar to what this book character experienced, where the whole human race from Adam down through all of history, was in the presence of God, given over to “mind reading” where all of the mistreatment, misunderstanding, mistrust, hatred, animosity, etc. gave way to understanding, love, and compassion. Maybe there is some hurt as we feel the pain we’ve cause someone but I imagine the pain will be fleeting as if waking from a dream into glorious reality.

I believe that with Jesus Christ as the way, truth, and life, we will suddenly wake from the dream to truly know Him, ourselves, and each other and there will be love. As you have said beautifully:

I hear you! Keep the faith my brother!



Whew! I finished the book. It took me three days and I read fast. Now I am going to have to read it again to get some of the new-to-me terminology in my head. Derek, any chance of a Study Guide?

I completely agree with you regarding punishment by the way, because pre or post death PAINFUL punishment is useless. I have nursed people in moderate to severe pain and in moderate to intense anxiety and I have been there myself. Noone can LEARN anything under those conditions. So assuming God wants to draw all people to Him, either before or after death, and assuming that our post death bodies have better wiring and heightened senses, pain is even more useless as a teacher and is certainly not going to draw anyone in. Now, having God sit down with you and gently explain a few things—that I could see. And there maybe some way for people to reconcile their sins. (Why do I keep picturing the Oracle from the first Matrix movie when I think about this?) :smiley:

To me, justice would be having someone that had caused me harm, apologize to me for it, and show me they had changed. I would also like God to help me do that for anyone I had sinned against.


One thing I’ve been thinking about as I’ve been reading on this issue of retribution, is this difference I’ve been calling for when we imagine God punishing people - some people who are against punishment demonstrate people as sad and needy, while those who support punishment show people being arrogant and violent.

When I stated a difficulty that God behaves one way in a perfect world and another in an imperfect world, I think I’m really demonstrating my belief that God does not punish the righteous. To argue that someone who’s hurt and humble and waiting for someone to affirm and love them, of course I doubt God’s got punishment in mind for them. But for someone who’s arrogant who neither needs God nor their neighbor, who has no regard for the poor or the needy, I read scripture as declaring God does have wrath for them.

I think we’re somewhat closer than we think but because we’re all learning, we tend to not like change. So for Derek and others, it seems deplorable that God might actually use evil in order to achieve a good purpose (Joseph’s brothers selling him) and for us it seems unfathomable that God doesn’t punish people in order to humble them. Perhaps that is why Bob is calling it semantics.


I think this is clearly demonstrated in Jesus, when on many occasions He got very angry at the religious leaders. He didn’t just get sad. He even cleared them out of the temple in a forceful (‘violent’ dare we say) way with the cords used like a whip. Jesus’ anger caused Him to act, and God’s anger causes Him to act. I see no real problem with God having to hurt people temporarily in order to reconcile them in the long run. It seem that the natural consequences of what you reap, are maybe enough for some people to bring them to their senses, but for others they seem to need more forceful action- if we take the example of Ananias and Sapphira, this would seem to be one of those examples unless you discard it and then you might as well discard the whole book. :confused:



Just finished your OT paper and really enjoyed it. I like the concept of looking at the major themes and trajectory of what God has been up to and its refreshing to hear a different take on the atonement as well. I’m looking forward continue to explore the atonement from a non-penal substitution perspective. I’d heartily recommend any one else here to take a look at Bob’s paper.



if you take some time you can listen to a few of these guys talk about Ananias and Saphira. It’s a fun listen: … se-part-1/

I think that should take you to the podcast.




I’m glad you enjoyed my papers. Thanks for letting me know. I too am continuing to explore the meaning of the cross, especially poring over N.T. Wright’s views on the meaning of Jesus’ life and death. Another stimulating book that I’m still processing is Lutheran Biblical scholar David Brondos’ “Paul on the Cross.”

All the best to you,


Thanks Aug. I’ve just checked out the comments which are interesting, and I’ll listen to the podcast later when I tackle my pile of ironing. :laughing:

Well, I’ve finally finished the book. :slight_smile: Here is my understanding of what the book is trying to convince us of (so apologies if I’ve misunderstood anything and please correct me asap):

God never acts in any way that is violent or hurtful only in ways that bring healing.

If this is true then large parts of the Bible are false e.g the law of stoning someone to death, the commands to kill women and children, Ananias and Sapphira being zapped by the Holy Spirit for sinning against it.

Jesus’ sacrifice has been misunderstood for the last sixteen hundred years. Jesus’ death is usually viewed as a human sacrifice that God required in order to appease his wrath, whereas the book argues that Jesus allowed his life to be taken because He was showing enemy love.

I’m not convinced of the first point, but I am fully convinced of the second- that Jesus’ sacrifice is not about appeasing an angry God but rather the ultimate example or sacrifice in showing enemy love.

The only way the ‘non violence’ argument can work, is if we dicard large parts of the Bible, which has loud alarm bells going off for me. :open_mouth:

There’s much to mull over, but I’m glad I got the book. Thanks Derek. :smiley: