Archive for the ‘mars hill’ tag
Here is a recent article from The New York Times about the Rev. Rob Bell, who is pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Mich., and has taken some heat from fellow Christians about his more, I would have to say, watered down version of the Gospel message.
In an upcoming book titled, “Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived,” he said the idea that “a select few Christians will spend forever in a peaceful, joyous place called heaven, while the rest of humanity spends forever in torment and punishment in hell with no chance for anything better” is “misguided and toxic.”
And here is a video that makes a similar case, the message of which is elusive at best:
In the video, Bell asked whether Gandhi is really in hell right now.
He is? And someone knows this for sure?
He goes on to ask other questions about the central tenants of Christianity.
Will only a few select people make it to heaven, and will billions of billions of people burn forever in hell, and if that’s the case, how do you become one of the few? Is it what you believe or what you say or what you do or who you know or something that happens in your heart? … How does one become one of these few?
And then he tackles the nature of God:
The real question (is): What is God like? Because millions and millions of people were taught that the primary message, the center of the gospel of Jesus is that God is going to send you to hell unless you believe in Jesus. … The message that gets taught is that Jesus rescues you from God, but what kind of god is that, that we would need to be rescued from this god. How can that god ever be good? How can that god ever be trusted? And how could that god ever be good news. This is why lots of people want nothing to do with the Christian faith. They see it as an endless list of absurdities and inconsistencies, and they say why would I ever want to be a part of that?
See, what we believe about heaven and hell is incredibly important because it exposes what we believe about who God is and what God is like. What you discover in the Bible is so surprising, unexpected and beautiful that whatever we’ve been told or taught, the good news is actually better than that. Better than you could ever imagine. The good news is that love wins.
First, some doctrinal points that need to be cleared up. I think most evangelical Christians would argue that God doesn’t actually send a person to hell himself, that he allows an eternal separation to take place between himself and the unbeliever because that person has rejected his offer and plan of salvation. Thus, even with that, the hellfire and brimstone message of, say, 19th-century pastors gets slightly watered down. Many still believe that there is a literal (or literally spiritual, whatever that means) place called hell that millions will visit upon their deaths because they rejected the gospel message, but nowadays, that eternal torment or punishment basically amounts to a separation from God. Whether that means literal pain or spiritual torment forever or eternal darkness or an eternal loveless state away from the one who supposedly is equal to love itself, doctrine isn’t quite clear. Regardless, I personally would agree with Bell. If God is all-loving and all-powerful, he is perfectly within his purview to remove and rescue people from their dire spiritual situation in which he himself has placed them by creating them. If he is all-powerful, he can within a moment, pluck a person from perdition into light. Presumably, he chooses not to do this. Thus, if he doesn’t explicitly send folks to hell, he certainly does implicitly. I would still argue for the former, given his contradictory attributes of being both all-powerful and all-loving.
Second, what Bell is doing here is quite clear. He’s attempting to appeal to a new generation of people who increasingly can’t at all relate to the traditional message because they find it to be too ghastly and abhorrent (and inconsistent, as Bell admits). Thus, Bell seems to be practicing and preaching some kind of moderate religion in which believers can’t comprehend that an all-loving God would really judge people right into eternal torment. The message anyone with a functioning heart can get behind — even skeptics — is that love wins. So, the hope, I would suppose, is that such a message might appeal to a wider audience and even draw in some folks who were disillusioned with the old message.
But I would argue that moderate religion is even more dishonest than fundamentalism because it seems to ignore John 3:16 (… “whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”) and numerous preachments from elsewhere in the New Testament. Is there any wiggle room here in the word, “should,” to possibly suggest that belief isn’t mandatory and that perishing is not a given for the unbeliever? I’m not so sure.
As ever, neuroscientist Sam Harris is eloquent on the case against moderation:
Reading scripture more closely, one does not find reasons to be a religious moderate; one finds reasons to be a proper religious lunatic—to fear the fires of hell, to despise nonbelievers, to persecute homosexuals, etc. Of course, anyone can cherry-pick scripture and find reasons to love his neighbor and to turn the other cheek. But the more fully a person grants credence to these books, the more he will be convinced that infidels, heretics, and apostates deserve to be smashed to atoms in God’s loving machinery of justice.
Another problem with religious moderation is that it represents precisely the sort of thinking that will prevent a rational and nondenominational spirituality from ever emerging in our world. Whatever is true about us, spirituality and ethically, must be discoverable now. Consequently, it makes no sense at all to have one’s spiritual life pegged to rumors of ancient miracles. What we need is discourse about ethics and spiritual experience that is as unconstrained by ancient ignorance as the discourse of science already is. Science really does transcend the vagaries of culture: there is no such thing as “Japanese” as opposed to “French” science; we don’t speak of “Hindu biology” and “Jewish chemistry.” Imagine a world in which we could truly have an honest and open-ended conversation about our place in the universe and about the possibilities of deepening our self-understanding, ethical wisdom, and compassion. By living as if some measure of sectarian superstition were essential to human happiness, religious moderates prevent such a conversation from ever taking shape.((1))
Following is the conclusion of Mars Hill’s moderate statement of “narrative theology”:
We believe the day is coming when Jesus will return to judge the world, bringing an end to injustice and restoring all things to God’s original intent. God will reclaim this world and rule forever. The earth’s groaning will cease, and God will dwell with us here in a restored creation. On that day we will beat swords into tools for cultivating the earth, the wolf will lie down with the lamb, there will be no more death, and God will wipe away all our tears. Our relationships with God, others, ourselves, and creation will be whole. All will flourish as God intends. This is what we long for. This is what we hope for. And we are giving our lives to living out that future reality now.
Not terribly clear, is it? God’s “original intent” seems to suggest the new heaven and new earth stuff that is supposed to be established following Christ’s return. Presumably this comes after Jesus separates the wheat from the chaff, sending billions to perdition, but we have no mention of such nastiness in the above statement. (Here’s a handy timeline of how it’s supposed to shake down in the end.)
Of course, to even suggest that God had original intents that somehow didn’t go as planned means that A) God is clumsy or B) God isn’t omniscient after all or C) that he isn’t worthy of worship, since he — assuming he’s still omniscient — knowingly set humans up to fail by giving us free will and then planting a carrot in front of our faces in the form of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and then allowing (with his head turned the other way, perhaps?) the serpent to creep in and tempt man. Believers retort that God allowed the temptation because God didn’t want slaves or robots. He wanted people who would willingly follow him. But we allow people to love us every day without subjecting them to cruel tests to prove that love. Why is this logic lost on an omniscient god?
The point is that moderate religion picks and chooses which bits of the Bible it advocates. If one is to gloss over or ignore the judgment, the separation of the wheat from the chaff and eternal suffering, he must also be willing to ignore Luke 21:36, Revelation 3:5, Revelation 22:12, 1 Peter 4:17, Ecclesiastes 3:17, John 5:28-29 and many other passages.
Whatever one might call this religion once these passages and others are redacted from the canon, it can’t be called Christianity. Thus, I’m not sure what sort of specific doctrines Bell is purporting, and while I might appreciate a more open-minded look at some basic questions about the nature of God by a religious person as presented in the Bible, Bell’s method is still a rather dubious and nebulous attempt to draw people into the fold with a love-infused message. Admittedly, it has worked. Mars Hill has about 10,000 members.
Many, even myself, wholeheartedly agree that “love wins.” Some just don’t feel the need to summon God to make it so. As it turns out, love wins every day without him.
And to answer the earlier question: yes, under Christian doctrine Gandhi really is in hell.