Houston Chronicle features gracEmail

Lawyer builds thriving Internet ministry By RICHARD VARA

Copyright January 10, 2003
Houston Chronicle Religion Editor

A Florida resident wants to know if God forgives suicide. A missionary in Uganda inquires if there is biblical support for “purgatory.” From the Middle East, someone asks what Jesus Christ meant when he blessed the poor in spirit.They get their answers from gracEmail, a one-man Internet ministry founded by Houston attorney Edward Fudge, who sends his e-mails of grace three times weekly to a worldwide congregation of nearly 3,800.

“I have always tried to write answers in a way that Christian people of any denomination who follow the Bible in their own hearts can appreciate whether they agree with (the answers) or not,” said Fudge, a nationally recognized Churches of Christ scholar, author and theologian. “I can be a voice that is really trusted and nondenominational even when I have a point of view.”

Fudge never planned on his Internet following.

“I was not on the Internet at all as of 1996,” Fudge said of the year he launched gracEmail to about 35 friends and acquaintances. “I have always been a Luddite and slow to take on technology.”

But his wife, Sara, encouraged him to use the Internet and soon he was engaged in religious chatroom discussions and began e-mailing devotional pieces to friends.

“That began to escalate, and people started writing and asking specific questions,” Fudge said. One answer led to another, and a few months later, a fellow member of Bering Drive Church of Christ suggested the name “gracEmail” for the rocketing ministry.

Subscribers to the free service come from throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico, as well as South America, Europe, Australia, Asia and Africa. They must ask to be put on the mailing list, and Fudge does not count in his numbers the visitors to his Web site, www.edwardfudge.com.

Fudge works on gracEmail at night after his day job with the Lanier law firm. He receives inquiries on “every conceivable subject,” he said. “Questions on specific passages throughout the Bible, questions on Christian living and spirituality, questions on relationships, any kind of questions Christians can come up with.”

His newest and 21st book, GraceEmail: Daily Answers for Life’s Big Questions (HillCrest Publishing, $12.95), is a compilation of the questions and his answers. In the book, due to be released in March, Fudge tackles Halloween, divorce and remarriage, court oaths and the appropriateness of praying before battle.

“So far as praying before going into battle, I can think of nothing better to do under the circumstances — and we may be sure in many cases that the relatives, loved ones and friends back home are doing the very same thing on both sides,” he answers.

“I don’t claim to be a final authority,” Fudge said. “I put (the answer) out for what it is worth. My credential would be my training in Bible school, Christian college, university and seminary, plus 58 years of Christian living and 40 years of preaching.”

Fudge didn’t become a lawyer until he was already in his 40s. He grew up in a devout Churches of Christ home in Alabama, attending a Bible elementary and high school founded by his father, who ran a Christian publishing business. His mother was the daughter of missionaries to Africa who wanted to return to the mission field.

He began preaching while still in high school and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biblical languages from Abilene Christian University. Although he preached in rural and small town churches, he had fallen in love with academia and decided to pursue a doctorate in biblical languages. He moved to St. Louis in 1968 and attended both a conservative evangelical seminary and a liberal seminary to prepare for his doctoral studies.

It broadened his thinking that “no denomination had all the truth,” Fudge said. “There were things to be learned from all the major different faith traditions within Christianity, which were the things I wanted to know.”

His father’s unexpected death in 1972 brought him back to Alabama and the publishing company. Fudge was already running afoul of the ultra-conservative wing of the Churches of Christ with his writings in denominational newspapers.

His theological opponents bought his publishing company in 1975 and fired him immediately. “They represented the radical sectarian element in the Churches of Christ, and they consider me to be a threat and a danger,” Fudge said.

The next year he was fired by his country church because “some people got the idea that I thought Baptists and Methodists were also going to heaven.”

Lynn Mitchell, resident scholar in religion at the University of Houston, explained that Fudge grew up in an ultra-conservative wing of the Churches of Christ that believed that only they would attain heaven.

Mitchell, who has known Fudge for 40 years, has followed his writings and ministry.

“He has been independent and on his own,” said Mitchell, who also attends Bering Drive Church of Christ. “He does his own thing, and it is attractive to a lot of people, not only in the Churches of Christ, but in other churches. He offers a broader view of salvation and of the grace of God and wider hope.”

Fudge is well known in evangelical circles in the United States and England for his view that eternal punishment or hell may be a second death or nonexistence rather than infinite suffering or torment. His view of final punishment, The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment, first published in 1982, made him a much-invited speaker and lecturer and launched his early reputation.

He revisited the topic in 2000 with Two Views of Hell: A Biblical and Theological Dialogue (InterVarsity, $13), a book he co-wrote with Robert A. Peterson.

Fudge is now focusing on the life of grace and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, a subject that is rarely explored in Churches of Christ but one he touches on frequently in gracEmail.

“I do seminars on the grace of God, the Holy Spirit, God’s guidance,” said Fudge, whose previous book, The Great Rescue: The Story of God’s AmazingGrace (New Leaf Books, $9.99), deals with salvation.

“I want to be remembered for something other than hell,” Fudge said.