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Heaven or Hell?

When I was growing up in a fire and brimstone religious tradition, it was soooo easy! Either people were going to Heaven or Hell, and you could pretty much tell just by looking at them, or what church they went to, where they were headed!

It’s just not that simple these days! But, I think it’s worth asking questions about what happens after we die?

Aside from the fact that a lot of people don’t believe in anything, even people of faith are now disagreeing! Recently, in a large church gathering, the pastor told the congregation that “None of us are going to Heaven when we die!” What?

Nobody blinked an eye, and I know because I was looking around in amazement! How did I miss this? Nobody was even disturbed!  I think now, there is the belief that we will be with God, wherever he is!  And it’s not on a cloud!

I recently heard the heartwarming story about little Colton Burpo, who says he visited ‘Heaven’, and sat on Jesus’ lap.

His father has written a book about his son’s death experience when he was less than four years old called, ‘Heaven is for Real’, and from everything I’m reading, it sounds pretty fascinating and honest. The father is a pastor, and writes with integrity and transparency according to this objective reviewer.

http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2011/02/book-review-heaven-is-for-real/

I’m not a Theologian, though I do study the Bible. I try to differentiate between opinion, theory, and truth grounded in something other than intellectual or emotional ‘hunches’. The Bible does talk a bit about what happens after we die, but there is more of an emphasis on how we should live on earth.

There has been an ongoing debate between Theologians and pastors over how to talk about Hell, too. You can read about this below.

http://divinity.uchicago.edu/martycenter/publications/sightings/archive_2011/0307.shtml

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Sightings

March 7, 2011

Hell‘s Bell

Martin E. Marty

Americans may have thought that cracks in the façade and framework of evangelicalism would show up most visibly when serious evangelicals argued whether Sarah Palin or Mike Huckabee would be the better presidential candidate. But now we have a chance to see that other divisive issues among evangelicals beg for attention. When one of these, a theological argument, no less, makes its way to the New York Times and other papers plus many blogs, it’s time to pay attention. Bystanders who think they have nothing at stake in the non-political arguments, and who have never heard of Pastor Bob Bell of Grand Rapids, Michigan, or his critic, neo-Calvinist John Piper, may stand by in fascination, but they are likely to be reached this time. The topic? Hell, and a punishing God’s use thereof.

Bell, featured in the Times story, is a star of the emergent middle among evangelicals. He is seen by his enemies as baiting those to his right by writing too kindly about God and the billions of mortals destined for hell, and they insist that softness has to stop. Pastor Bell is soon to publish Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. His publisher and others have tantalized the public with clips from the book, but the critics did not need to have read it and do not need to know more than that Bell is not so sure that a God of love will condemn those billions who never heard of Jesus Christ, or those millions who have heard but did not recognize him as their Savior, in order for them to fire up their own condemnations of Bell.

The Michigan pastor-author is not alone; Bell’s hell is paralleled in treatments of a whole wing of evangelicals. Some of this group “out” themselves, while others are in a kind of purgatory of inference that they are not quite orthodox on the subject. What this second wing keeps pondering and sometimes proclaiming is that there are ways to witness to the fact that God is holy and just, other than saying that he takes delight in punishing those ignorant of the stakes or those who are players of other salvation games. It is one thing to agree with sophisticated evangelical theologians and their artful articulators who semi-dodge the issue by saying that no one is ever sent to hell and suggesting that she or he chooses to go there.

Publics, including those serious about the Bible, doctrine, and church tradition, have not found ways to accept the teaching which they cannot square with witness to the God of love, so Bell and company would witness positively to them. Formal theologians in the evangelical camp are bemused by the consistent polls in which only a small percent of the clergy are ready to affirm and preach doctrines and threats of hell and the large percent of their followers who are not. They know of the gap, and feel they must close it. Otherwise orthodoxy will disappear and relativism or universalism will win. The evangelical parents whose teenage “good kid” son who has not made a formal profession of faith in Christ and thus will be condemned to hell if he dies, need better reasoning than the dogmatic professors of hell give them.

Otherwise this latest fissure in evangelicalism will grow, and arguments will distract preachers of hell from their tasks and opportunities to win people from its brink, thus swelling its population in the interest of saying the right thing about this form of a holy and just God’s mode of everlasting punishment. Why are they writing editorials and condemnations and attending conferences on hell when they could be out on the street corners, passing tracts and witnessing to hell—and divine love? Bell asks for answers.

References

Erik Eckholm, “Pastor Stirs Wrath With His Views on Old Question,” New York Times, March 4, 2011.

Martin E. Marty’s biography, current projects, publications, and contact information can be found at www.illuminos.com.

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4 Responses

  1. I’ve written a review of Rob Bell’s book on my blog, SpiritualThemes. A favorable view. One of the new things I noticed is that those that are debating that there “IS AN ETERNAL” hell have not just as vociferously spoke up and said just as loud, just as forcefully said “AND THERE’S A DEVIL TOO”. Why, because even among those leaders there is more doubt and dissension. I couldn’t gather truly decisively your thoughts so I hope that I didn’t offend. Thanks for the post.

    • Hi Infofrager,
      Thanks for writing, and no, you don’t offend. I think you’ll agree, if we’re out here blogging, offense is one ‘luxury’/or ‘flaw’ that would be terribly limiting! I did mention my personal beliefs concerning the Devil in a recent blog, I’ll check which one. Yes, I believe there is a world we don’t normally observe in the West, and this was more than confirmed after living in South East Asia. The contrasting world views: Secular Humanism or Naturalism in the West vs Animism or Pantheism are not the only choices. I would also add a third world view: Theism. Animist and Pantheists put their spirits including God and the Devil all on one level. Theists put the Devil on a separate level from God who is above all. The devil is a created being, clearly described as a destroyer and liar in the Holy Bible. In the New Testament, I John 3:8 (John writes that the reason Jesus (son of God) appeared, was to destroy the devil’s work). So, because I’m a follower of Jesus, I’d be remiss if I didn’t believe in the devil. I can guarantee that all the theologians who have entered the debate would say the same thing. :=)

    • Hi Infofrager,
      Thanks for writing, and no, you don’t offend. I think you’ll agree, if we’re out here blogging, offense is one ‘luxury’/or ‘flaw’ that would be terribly limiting! I did mention my personal beliefs concerning the Devil in a recent blog, I’ll check which one. Yes, I believe there is a world we don’t normally observe in the West, and this was more than confirmed after living in South East Asia. The contrasting world views: Secular Humanism or Naturalism in the West vs Animism or Pantheism are not the only choices. I would also add a third world view: Theism. Animist and Pantheists put their spirits including God and the Devil all on one level. Theists put the Devil on a separate level from God who is above all. The devil is a created being, clearly described as a destroyer and liar in the Holy Bible. In the New Testament, I John 3:8 (John writes that the reason Jesus (son of God) appeared, was to destroy the devil’s work). So, because I’m a follower of Jesus, I’d be remiss if I didn’t believe in the devil. I can guarantee that all the theologians who have entered the debate would say the same thing. :=)

    • Hi Infofrager,
      Thanks for writing, and no, you don’t offend. I think you’ll agree, if we’re out here blogging, offense is one ‘luxury’/or ‘flaw’ that would be terribly limiting! I did mention my personal beliefs concerning the Devil in a recent blog, I’ll check which one. Yes, I believe there is a world we don’t normally observe in the West, and this was more than confirmed after living in South East Asia. The contrasting world views: Secular Humanism or Naturalism in the West vs Animism or Pantheism are not the only choices. I would also add a third world view: Theism. Animist and Pantheists put their spirits including God and the Devil all on one level. Theists put the Devil on a separate level from God who is above all. The devil is a created being, clearly described as a destroyer and liar in the Holy Bible. In the New Testament, I John 3:8 (John writes that the reason Jesus (son of God) appeared, was to destroy the devil’s work). So, because I’m a follower of Jesus, I’d be remiss if I didn’t believe in the devil. I can guarantee that all the theologians who have entered the debate would say the same thing. :=)

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