Dante, Culture Wars, & The Church: Understanding Jesus’s View Judgement

The idea of placing one’s political enemies in the deepest and darkest depths of hell is neither a particularly modern nor even a post-post-modern concept. In 1314, the poet and theologian, Dante, spoke of how the inner ring of hell was reserved for Judas and Brutus, the greatest traitors in human history. Those with a Christian worldview can easily understand the placement of Judas. But why Brutus; why place the guy who stabbed Julius Caesar in the back next to guy who betrayed Jesus? Dante made such a placement because in addition to thinking about farting demons he also possessed a fascination with the Roman empire. In the third volume of his trilogy, Dante cast heaven into the shape of the Roman eagle. In other words, Brutus destroyed the very political and cultural system that Dante looked to for safety and security.

Most Christians today no longer seek to objectify and excoriate roman politicians who died a few thousand years ago. But at times, we do publicly express our deep resentment for those who voted ‘the wrong way’ and for those who promote sexual perversion of our culture. It’s not uncommon to find evangelical social media post condemning those dressed up as drag queens as being the worst human beings of all time…hanging out in the lowest levels of hell if you will. But, will they be?  

Who is the Worst Sinner?

To begin with, I want to clearly state that such acts are sinful. The ever-increasing acceptance of homosexuality and materialism within Western culture evidences the withdrawal of God’s blessing and the surety of his judgement (Rom 1:26-27). As the apostle Paul tells the Ephesians, “For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.” The consequence of sin both individually and corporately will be divine judgement. That is not in doubt.

But what is in doubt in the quality of such sins. Though many evangelicals believe that the darkest rings of hell will be reserved for those who openly undermine our vision for society, Jesus reserves God’s most severe judgment for another class of sinners: those who reject the clear proclamation of the gospel.

When Jesus sends out the twelve disciples on their first missionary journey in Matthew 10, he offers this warning to those that reject their message: “Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town (Mt 10:15).” Then the next chapter over in Matthew 11:23-24, Jesus condemns the town of Capernaum with these words, “But I tell you it will be more tolerable on the day of judgement for the land of Sodom than for you.”

Jesus’s first audience understood Sodom’s prevailing sin (though the culture was also associated with many other sins such as covetousness) to be that of homosexuality. As the story of Lot and the angels makes clear, the men of Sodom wanted to sleep with the male messengers and not Lot’s unwed daughters (Gen 13:13; Gen 19:1-24). To be associated with Sodom was to be associated with great sin and the eternal judgement of God.

But according to Jesus, a greater sin than even homosexuality exists: the sin of rejecting the gospel. The old British Pastor, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, expanded upon this idea when he wrote,

The height of sin is not to feel any need of the grace of God…final self-sufficiency, and self-satisfaction, and self-righteousness is the sin of sins.

Undoubtedly many men and women leading the sexual revolution have heard and rejected the gospel of Jesus Christ. But so have countless numbers of nice moral guys who spend their weekend hunting and so have many kind women who walked their kids to the park this Sunday morning instead of church. Despite what we might imagine, the deepest and darkest spots in hell will not be reserved for Brutus nor drag queens but for those who have witnessed the glories of Jesus and politely said, “No thanks, I’m good; I’ll take it from here.”  In other words, God’s fury burns most hotly against those who once heard the gospel and then rejected it for either Sunday brunch or the baseball diamond. Those content to live content to live without grace will surely be consumed by fire.

What Do We Do?

What does such knowledge mean for us and our churches? First, we should evangelize those on the leading edge of the sexual revolution. We should call drag queens and those fighting to expand the rights and privileges of gay marriage to repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. Stated differently, we should engage the public square with the truth of the gospel, longing to see sinners saved and culture redeemed. We have truth; we have light; and we should share it with our lost and dying world.

But we should also engage those in the parks, in the hunting cabins, and at the sports complexes who used to attend our churches. We should be concerned about those who can interact with Jesus and then live as if He never came than about those who voted the wrong way. Love demands that we call both those who never heard a sermon and those who heard hundreds and yet never followed Jesus to repentance…to worship the one true God.

The Real Problem?

The famous British pastor, John Stott, aptly said several years ago, “If society deteriorates and its standards decline, till it becomes like a dark night or stinking fish, there is no sense in blaming society; that is what happen when… human selfish is unchecked. The question to ask is, ‘Where is the church?” What shocking is not that the world tolerates the rejection of Jesus, but that countless manifestations of the local church that do, allowing members who never worship Jesus to stay on their roles and to shape their ethos…to dilute the light of the gospel. I suspect what the church needs today is less people like Dante who can creatively imagine Brutus in hell and more people like Stott who rightfully wonder where the church has gone. The next time you see a news story the portends the doom of your cultural ideals,

The Story of the Story: A Review of the Boys in The Boat

Poughkeepsie. Most sports fans have never heard of this word that once filled the sports pages of the major newspapers. Those industrious enough to do a quick Google search of the term will discover a short definition of the word, a map, and a Wikipedia page that contains a few paragraphs about a sleepy town at the edge of the Hudson River. The amazing sports history tied to this term has almost completely faded from the American consciousness.

A Quick Overview

In all honesty, I too knew nothing of the word until I discovered the book, The Boys in the Boat, written by Daniel James Brown. In the span of 403 pages, Brown introduces his readers to the Poughkeepsie regatta and to the western college boys who overcame a world of adversity to best the Ivy League rowing crews at Poughkeepsie before securing Olympic gold in Berlin. I commend the author for rediscovering and then retelling this heroic tale of fortitude and perseverance that was accomplished by Joe Rantz, Roger Morris, and seven other determine, college students. As the pages turn, Brown places the reader on the edges of the Lake Washington, the Poughkeepsie and of the Grunau as he recounts the Washington University’s team’s various training exercises and multiple victories. Brown’s vivid details allow the reader to feel the boys’ powerful strokes as their racing shell, the Husky Clipper, glides past its competitors boats one seat at a time. Brown’s fulfills his mission to tell the narrative of the boys in the boat who made the 1936 Olympics. It is a story well worth remembering.

The Story of the Story

Though the book was phenomenal, I found the need for the book to be as thought provoking as the story printed on its pages. 

As Brown notes, rowing has not always been an obscure pastime. The author reminds us that, “In the 1930s and 1920s, collegiate crew was wildly popular, often ranking right up there with baseball and collegiate football in the amount of press it received and the crowds it drew.” In 1939, 125,000 fans came to watch the Poughkeepsie regatta. Radio listenership for the major rowing races came to rival the Kentucky Derby, the Rose Bowl, and the World Series. Kids even swapped trading cards of their favorite crews.

What exactly happened to the sport of collegiate rowing pushes beyond the bounds of this book. But its modern obscurity remains a fact. Where it not so, this book would not be necessary. The author recounts in the prologue how Joe Rantz’s gold medal had gone missing only to be discovered years later in a squirrel’s nest tucked away behind a wall. Picking up on the anecdote, Brown writes, “it occurred to me that Joe’s story like the medal, had been squirreled away out of sight for too long.” I am thankful that Brown was able to retrieve the story of the Husky Clipper.

Fame Does Not Last

But the fact that Joe and his boat could almost disappear from the American, public consciousness reveals that the philosopher Albert Camus was on to something. Our earthly legacy does depend a great deal on those who survive them. If one generation forgets us, our story can be lost from the halls of history forever. If a team of world-renowned fame can almost completely disappear from the modern consciousness, most of us average Joe’s and bland Betty’s face even worse odds. To quote the wise king Solomon who was reflective in his own right, “the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten (Ecc. 9:5).” If you doubt Solomon, I challenge you to recall the name of your grandmother’s grandmother without referencing your genealogy. How did that go? Don’t feel bad, I can’t do it either. We can all be easily forgotten. To quote Solomon again, “a living dog is better than a dead lion (Ecc 9:4).”

To his credit Joe Rantz was happy to be forgotten. The man who was content to let a squirrel steal his gold medal while he hauled logs down a mountain lived for much more than the fame of the moment. He enjoyed life with his bride and his children whom he loved deeply as evidence by their ability to share Joe’s various stories with Brown. To some degree, I think Joe Rantz understood that life was more than sports fame which can be lost far easier than it can be won.

Solomon also understood this principle, declaring most things to be vanity except the fear of the Lord. The story of Joe’s story reminds us all of the importance of heeding Ecclesiastes 9:13 which offers this overview of human life, “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” Sports Fame is fleeting. The Fear of the Lord lasts forever. Choose wisely.

Final Thoughts

The story of Joe Rantz and the boys in the boat could easily be one of the best sports stories of all time. Brown should be commended for having preserved this captivating tale for yet another generation of readers. But I find the epistemological meaning found within the story of the story to be of even greater value. To stand atop the platform of eternity, men and women must do more than strain for earthly gold. To achieve that which cannot be destroyed by rust or faulty memories, men and women must heed the wisdom of Solomon and pursue righteousness, trusting God to care for the rest.

In other words, don’t waste your life pursuing that which can be stolen by a squirrel.

The Gospel: Rest > Work

Men and women are destined for work. Researchers recently discovered that people who retire before 65 are 11% more likely to die within ten years of saying farewell to the old cubical than those who retire after 65. The creator of Peanuts, Charles Schultz, died within hours of drawing his last Snoopy cartoon. Work grounds the human soul, providing income, direction, and a sense of purpose. If a teenager wants to impress a room of grumpy, old adults, he or she needs to only mention the creation of the snow cone business. We were made to work.

Because work proves so essential to our earthly identity, we can be tempted to measure our spiritual identity by our earthly works. We talk of the mission trips we have gone on, the checks we have written, the songs we have sung, the Sunday school pins we have collected, and the hours we have served in the nursery. We put our shoulder to the old grindstone and attempt to push our way to heaven.

But no matter how hard we work to gain God’s approval; we still feel far removed from the Lord of Heaven. He finds fault with our efforts. Even our best days contain little lies, a mean thought, or a word of anger. To make up for our mistakes, we work harder, promising to abstain from premarital sex, to finish school, and to pick up litter on the weekends. Still, the smile of God remains elusive.

How Do Get God’s Blessing?

If you are working hard to earn heaven or to earn back the favor of God because you have sinned, I encourage you to stop working and to start resting. We cannot work our way back to heaven. And, we don’t have to. Jesus came under the law to fulfill all righteousness because he is the beloved son of God. In Matthew 3:13-17, the gospel author details the baptism of Jesus to remind us of the sufficiency of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection. We know longer have to work for heaven because Jesus has accomplished all righteousness.

Jesus Did It All

When Jesus asked John the Baptist to baptize him, John objects. After all, Jesus has not sinned. As the parallel passage in John 1:29 makes clear, Jesus is the Messiah, “the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” He did not need to repent and get baptized for he was the answer for sin. But what John missed and what we often miss when we read this story is that Jesus came to save sinners by walking in their footsteps. Jesus came to do what you and I can never do. He came to perfectly obey God. He came under the law to fulfill the law. Because God required his children to be baptized, Jesus embraced the waters of baptism. As Jesus told John in Matthew 3:13: “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus did it all. When he died on the cross the work of paying for sins was complete. He paid our debt in full.

To reach heaven, men and women do not have to do penance, travel to a South Pacific island, or perfectly attend church for a year. Christ did it all. All we must do is repent and believe. Even baptism ceases to be a requirement for heaven. While all Christians should long to be baptized as it is a sign of faithful obedience, grace exists for those who cannot enter into the waters because of illness, imprisonment, or other physical limitations. The thief on the cross could be with Jesus in paradise without baptism because Jesus had fulfilled the law (Lk. 23:43). Our salvation does not depend on us. It depends upon the work of Jesus. He did not do 90% or even 99% of it. He did it all. Rest in him.

Jesus and the Blessing of God

But such a rest makes sense only if Jesus is God. It is one thing for Jesus to identify with sinners. But we can only be confident of the efficacy of Jesus’s work on earth if we are certain that the Father delights in the work of the son. It is one thing to claim heaven. It is quite another for heaven to claim you

What set Jesus apart from every other spiritual prophet and teacher is that Jesus claimed heaven and heaven claimed Jesus. Immediately after his Baptism, Matthew records,

The heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased (3:16b-17).”

The Holy Spirit anoints Jesus as the new prophet, priest and king, the new Adam who comes to usher in a new kingdom. And then the Father declares Jesus to be his beloved son with whom he is well pleased. Because Jesus is the holy son of God, the Father delights in him.

Though we cannot please the Father, Jesus does. And he does so not just for his benefit. He does so for us. The baptism of John pictures how Jesus redeems sinners. After fulfilling all righteousness, Jesus dies on the cross for sinners, submerging himself under the waters of death to pay for all of our sins. Then, he bursts forth from the water, shattering the stone that blocked his tomb and revealing that all who repent of their sins and trust in the life and death of Christ for salvation will be raised to eternal life. In other words, the Father delights in the sacrifice of Jesus. No other works or promises are needed.

Moreover, if we know the saving power of Christ and have once again stumbled like the disciples were prone to do, we do not have to cry a certain number of tears, we do not have to give X amount of money, nor do we have to stay away from church for five weeks to gain forgiveness. We do not have to work to re-earn God’s favor. God has fulfilled all righteousness. The forgiveness of God remains forever sure for it depends not upon us but upon Jesus. Draw near to God and he will always draw near to you.


Those who work for their salvation with great zeal do not prove themselves to be grand saints. They prove themselves to be grand fools. The Father delights in the work of Christ.

If we stop working for heaven, our earthly identities will perish, our friends will change, and we may experience all kinds of loss. But we will gain something far greater. As Jesus said in Matthew 16:25,

For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Stop working and rest in the Jesus for he is the fulfillment of all righteousness the beloved son of God. All who stop working and repent and believe find eternal life.

Are you ready to retire?