Book Review: Cosmos Reborn, by John Crowder

I’m pretty sure that if I died and came back as somebody else, I would come back as John Crowder.

The fine folks at The Speakeasy sent me another book to review, which is fabulous, because I love books. I hope they’ll forgive me for the lateness of this post because the book took a while to read, and I kept putting it off.

When I saw this book available, I was so psyched. I can’t even tell you how excited I was about this book. I watched the trailer, I was even more excited. (Here’s the trailer.)

I got this at the same time as Living the Questions. I read LtQ first. Then I cracked Cosmos Reborn. I read the introduction. I liked John Crowder. I read the introduction, called “I am and am not a universalist.” He borrowed the quote from Robert Farrar Capon, whose work I absolutely love, and whom he quotes repeatedly throughout the book.

By page 33, John Crowder has said, “Scandal number one: The Bible is not the word of God. Yes, the Bible is fully inspired and it’s the means by which we see Jesus. But Jesus Christ – not the Bible – is the Word.” I’ve said that elsewhere myself.

To be completely honest, I spent my time in this book with about three different attitudes:

1. This book is really boring.
2. That is so wrong. I can’t believe he just said that.
3. OMYGOSH THAT’S THE MOST AMAZING THING I’VE EVER READ IN MY LIFE!!!

Seriously. I was pretty bored for decent chunks of time. I would drag my eyes through paragraph after paragraph, and then I would read something ABSOLUTELY INCREDIBLE and post it on Facebook or text it to a friend.

Background: I don’t highlight books. Ever. I tried it for a little bit in college with textbooks (I think) but I eventually thought it was lame. I highlighted Cosmos Reborn.

In chapter two, The Case for a Loving God, Crowder blasts Penal Substitutionary Atonement. Seriously. He empties an entire clip of theology into it, reloads, empties another one, and THEN burns its house to the ground. He makes us choose between God being loving and God being evil, not just. Watch:

Everything was going fine. All was perfection until one day – lo and behold – mankind did the unthinkable. He ate God’s apple.

Now, nobody does that! You can’t just disobey God and get away with it. Somebody has to pay the price. God became fuming angry. God, in His holy narcissism, suddenly became enraged. Spitting mad. God’s holiness had somehow been offended. He was personally peeved. The scales of balance ha to be set aright. “God is love,” we are told, “but forget not his wrath!” Justice had to be paid. That apple had to be accounted for. Somebody would burn over this. Someone was going to feel the full force of His raging, maniacal fury.

Bloodthirsty, God’s anger had to be appeased. He had to wreak vengeance and destroy. “I’ll teach you to eat another apple!” And so, with purple veins bulging from His temples, His wild eyes red hot with destruction like Thor swinging His lightning hammer from the sky God was about to open a can of destruction … give you what you deserve. Filled with bloodlust, He reared back his arm … about to unleash the hot kraven of hell on mankind. …

But wait! Suddenly Jesus steps in (good cop, bad cop), jumps in front of you … And instead of God hurling His bloodlust upon you, He unleashes it upon His own Son … satisfying his rage by brutally murdering His own child.

This is the part where we are supposed to stand up and cheer.

Here is the good news, “God really hated you, but since He savagely massacred His own Child, He’s decided to love you as long as you pray this prayer…”

How convenient, to make God in our own image. A God of our own making who is conveniently less moral than we are.

And burn.

I have read atheists mocking penal substitution before, but they have never managed to make that version of God look quite that awful. And that was just the first clip.

Crowder goes on to attack the ridiculous and unbiblical notion that God abandoned Jesus on the cross. I highlighted where he wrote,

The Father doesn’t abandon anybody.

Beautiful. And then on the next page he calls doubt a sin, a notion with which I expressly disagree.

I schlucked through the chapter on The Vicarious Man (A pretty decent read about Jesus). I got kind of excited when he talked about incarnation vs Greek Dualism. It was interestingish.

And then chapter four was titled “Hell is Sort of Real, But Heaven’s Door is Always Open.” I was kind of excited.

He launched into a fabulous and brief apologetic for Universalism. He quotes the “All” verses. For several pages, he quotes the All verses. Like his attack on Penal Substitution, it’s almost overkill. Almost. In the end, though, he acknowledges that there are verses that disagree with the All verses. He takes C.S. Lewis’s idea that Hell is locked from the inside, and even quotes The Great Divorce. And then he comes to this beautiful bit that I quoted on Facebook a few days ago:

God is a Judge whose whole shtick is non-judgment… “This Son, strangely, does not judge, but rather saves. Not only in this verse, therefore, but throughout the Gospel of John, there lurks the image of the rigged trial, of a judgment at which the judge is shamelessly in cahoots with the guilty world and utterly determined to acquit it no matter what,” writes Capon.

That last part landed on my wall. I got out my highlighter. And then he stated he wasn’t preaching Universal Reconciliation. And THEN he pulled out the Orthodox view of hell, which I love. And he talked about the ancient Christians and their ideas. Which I also enjoyed. I think he borrowed a few pages from Love Wins as well.

And then chapter five was called “The Faith of God and Why You Should Give Up.” He argues that even the Sinner’s Prayer™ is a work (as I have argued before). Trying to have enough faith is a work. “But let’s put faith in its proper place. Otherwise, people are not putting their trust in Jesus Christ. Instead, they are trusting their own belief in Jesus Christ!”

And another horrible pseudotheology just got pwnd.

I shlucked through chapter 6, “The Case for Divine Complacency,” and dragged myself through “Born from Above,” and made it through “The Divinity of Man.” The book had a total of eight chapters.

The Way The Book Looked
My wife is a graphic designer. I am a lifelong bookworm. I think the biggest issue I had with this book wasn’t the theology, but the typography. The margins were so narrow that it felt like it went on forever. They used a sans serif font, which is great for the web but horrible for print. Some of my struggles came from the textual choices that were made. Things that look fantastic on the internet don’t look quite so good in a printed book.

Final Thoughts
I liked Cosmos Reborn. John Crowder is a fascinating and insightful theologian. I think this book is worthwhile, even if you only read the three chapters that I enjoyed. I wasn’t really challenged by it because I mostly agreed with him, but I would certainly like to share the chapters that I enjoyed with other people.

Want a copy? Get it on Amazon.

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Disclosure of Material Connection:
I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

David M Schell About David M Schell
David M. Schell is a doubter, a believer, and a skeptic. He writes about God and stuff. He is happily married to Kristen, and that's why his posts don't come out as often or as angry.

  • God is a judge who does not judge — not yet. Second and third chances multiply until death. There will be a judgment, that is incontrovertible, just not yet. Likewise, the Father does not abandon anybody — not yet. Hell is a kind of abandonment, even if it requires in some sense that a person is sustained in existence by God.

    By the way, if you aren’t such a fan of penal substitution atonement, what is your model of atonement?

    What is Universalism apart from universal reconciliation? There is a universal redemption, but we cannot preach a universal salvation.

    • I would tend to disagree with your take on eternal punishment. I prefer the Orthodox view of hell, which is that everyone is in the presence of God forever. The wicked / unrepentant / whoever-you-have-there are those who cannot stand God’s love.

      __

      I don’t really have one single specific model of atonement that I prefer. I like the older view (Christus Victor), but I’m not necessarily sure that I need it. I’m also a fan of the idea that God didn’t need Jesus to die for us to come to God, but that we did. Nick, over at Nick’s Catholic Blog, has a fantastic and in-depth argument against PSA.

      I prefer Derek Flood’s argument.

      My favorite conversation that discusses both penal substitution is Brian Zahnd’s talk (which he borrowed from an Orthodox priest) called The Gospel in Chairs:

      ___

      I still lean toward “Hopeful Christian Universalist,” though I can’t speak for John Crowder. By “hopeful” I mean that I don’t know for sure, but I find reason to hope for it in scripture. John Crowder seems to, but he’s so nuanced sometimes that it’s hard to tell!

      • There’s cause to desire it, but hope? I guess that comes down to the definition of hope. Hope rests on faith, and unless we have faith that all will be saved, we cannot have hope that all will be saved, at least if we use the Christian definition of hope.

        Desire makes more sense. In fact, I’d go so far to say that all should desire that all be saved, even as all should recognize that most likely some — at least few, probably many, maybe most — will not be saved.

        • I would argue that there is indeed cause to hope, and plenty of it:
          • Luke 3:6 – All flesh will see the salvation of God.
          • John 3:17 – God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
          • 1 John 2:2 – He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
          • Romans 11:32 – For God has consigned ALL to disobedience, that he may have mercy on ALL.
          • 1 Corinthians 15:22-28 – For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.
          • 2 Corinthians 5:19 – In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not holding men’s sins against them.

          And there are a whole slew more at Tentmaker.

          John Crowder disagrees with the folks over at Tentmaker in that he reads the verses that seem to disagree as equally valid, and doesn’t read them through these verses. Most eternal torment folks read the universalist passages through the lens of the eternal torment passages, and most universalists do the opposite. John Crowder, weirdly, does neither. He’s hard to pin down.

          • Passages are, in turn, taken care of these ways, in no particular order but whim:

            1. It is about redemption, not salvation.
            2. It describes generally, not specifically to individuals.
            3. Salvation is universally offered (by the redemption) but it is not universally accepted.
            4. Viewing/seeing/witnessing, &c the salvation of God does not mean we shall have it ourselves.

          • 1. What’s the difference?
            2. Why not?
            3. Maybe, maybe not.
            4. Agree to disagree 🙂

  • One, Two, Three, Four — all sort of right here. .

    • Interesting. Though it would be difficult for me to disagree more with the hair-splitting that I think is going on in this post. John Crowder might actually agree, though. I don’t know. I just have a hard time with people being tormented forever. And by a hard time I mean I can’t believe in a deity that would do that, or that would allow that. I just can’t.

      • Why?

        • Well, I suppose that I *could* believe in such a deity; I just couldn’t buy that deity as being loving. And I guess I couldn’t believe in that deity because right now I live so close to the fringe between Christianity and atheism that something that awful would probably push me over the edge if I had to believe it to be a Christian. I would just drop the whole thing altogether and become a naturalist.

          The only thing that keeps me on the Christianity train at all is the idea of a God who died for his enemies – not because that God was mad at them, but because they needed help. I think that story is the best story that we have. For me, “hell” is a contradiction to that self-sacrificing love that, for me, is the red-hot center of Christianity.

          It would be expedient and wise to worship and obey a cruel and violent God who would torment his enemies in hell for all eternity, but I don’t think that deity could ever be construed as “good” or “worthy.” And, more importantly for me, I don’t think that’s the God who is revealed in and by Jesus.

          This conversation may deserve a new post, actually.

          • This conversation may deserve a new post, actually.

            So be it!

        • I should add: I don’t mean to offend you or speak unkindly or in negative stereotypes about what you believe, if you believe it. The way I described a deity who would torment people forever in hell is my read on the story, obviously, and I’m sure you can understand from reading it that I don’t have a very positive view of it, but I understand if you do and would be interested in hearing your thoughts.

          • I can’t take offense at something as well-intentioned as all that. Doesn’t mean I think you’re right, of course, and I do think your take on it is very wrong, but taking offense? Waste of time to break from grace.

            I’ll definitely think on it and get back to you. I don’t want to play fast and easy with something like this.

  • I’m thinking I should switch to Disqus, because I can’t like that comment.