Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

Tag: rob bell

Why the hell?

Why the hell?

I told someone in a coffee shop today that I don’t believe in hell and she thought I might go to hell for that. She wasn’t sure about much theology or even what she believed about God, but she was pretty sure that I was supposed to believe in hell if I was a pastor.

Why the hell? Why did we get shackled to this extra-biblical idea of eternal souls and punishment? It was Jesus who said, “Whoever believeth in me shall not perish but receive everlasting life” right? If everyone already has an everlasting soul, then what kind of promise is Jesus making to Nicodemus in John 3:16? Is everlasting life something we receive or is it something we have already by nature of our humanity? Is “the afterlife” a given for everyone and it’s up to us whether we spend eternity in the bad place or the good place? I don’t think so, but it’s remarkable how much staying power this idea has.

Rob Bell’s book was aight

I just read Rob Bell’s supposedly scandalous book from 2010, Love Wins, which precipitated his departure from his megachurch and his exit form the evangelical mainstream. In the eyes of his critics, the worst thing he did was question this old script of eternal punishment. But I agree with his argument. Without the presupposition of the eternal soul, all of the scripture references to “hell” (Sheol, the grave, Hades, the pit, the lake of fire) can be interpreted very differently. Circle of Hope pastors have considered this here, here, and here. Bell’s book was not a revelation to me. It was, however, an artful, empathetic, and pastoral invitation to an alternate view. I think many people need to hear this Good News, still.

I might join Bell’s critics when he suggests that salvation can come to people through Jesus even if Jesus is not named as their Savior explicitly. He is pegged as a Universalist now. He hints at the possibility that by other faiths and traditions individuals may arrive at a way of being that Jesus desires for everyone. Maybe that is what he is trying to say but I am not sure Rob fits perfectly in that Universalist shoe. It seems to me that Jesus is still very much his personal Savior. But his nuanced language is not definitive enough for most people. Theologians, and Christians in general, seem to want more certitude. There is comfort in certitude. They fear that “mystery” might be the means by which Jesus is depersonalized into the “Force’, or the “Source’, or the “Universe,” or something else that robs him of his proper place. People do abuse “mystery” this way, but not all do, and I don’t think Rob does.

We want some people to go to hell, tho.

Some people find a lot of comfort in the fact that the bad people are going to hell. They need justice to be done, and the only thing bad enough is eternal punishment. Other people find a perverse sort of comfort in the probability that they themselves are going to hell. At least the universe makes sense if bad people (even if that’s me) get what they deserve eventually. I think the idea of hell is comfortable, like a toxic relationship that we don’t have the energy to change or escape. But we don’t get what we deserve–not now and not after we die. Jesus offers us everlasting life as a gift, not a reward for good behavior.

Isn’t this Good News? I don’t have to earn anything. I’m getting off the scale. Measuring up is no longer my goal. My performance is now for art sake, and not for the reviews. I am free. This demand for merit is what made me not free. That cosmic calculus is what made me a slave. This Truth is taking root in me and it has changed and will continue to change my life.

Let’s get some real Good News!

Let’s keep undoing that story about hell and eternal punishment. Jesus came not to condemn the world but to save it. You can receive that salvation and inherit eternal life, or not. If you don’t want a life with God, okay–you don’t have to have it. Why the hell would God die for you so that he could reserve the right to torture you forever? That just doesn’t make sense. And demanding that it make sense undoes all the other Good News that comes with Jesus’ death and resurrection. Judgment day is coming but the verdict has already been given and the sentence has already been served. Punishment itself died with Christ. Now that is Good News! You can have it.

 

I actually hit the ground running

  1. It didn’t rain on the 4th day of January (today) so I went for a run. It IS New Year’s resolution time and all. I always take an opportunity to start or renew my discipline because I always need a chance to start again.

You may be like me. I’m an “all in” kind of guy. If I’m not going 100% toward my goal, if I fall off the wagon, if I don’t do what I said I was going to do perfectly, if I miss one day… I might as well just quit. What’s the point if it isn’t perfect? Hopefully you’re not like me, and hopefully I’m not like me this time either.

I was telling folks at our Sunday meeting at 3800 Marlton Pike this past Sunday, that we often aim for the wrong thing when we’re making resolutions. If we aim to BE something that we are not, we will probably never hit the mark, and we will probably quit quickly. But if we aim to DO something and get good at doing it we will be in better shape. BUT… the real spiritual genius is the person who aims to get good at not quitting. When we don’t do the thing we resolved to do and return to the discipline anyway. This is an area in which I need improvement. You might, too.

Didn’t make it this far (Cuthbert Blvd.) Tomorrow is another day!

Today I went running and, confession time, it totally sucked. I’ve been too long out of the habit. Mind you, I’ve run the 10 mile Broad Street Run in the past. I might have told you in the past that I actually like to run. Well I didn’t like it today. I ran to the Cooper River from my office in Pennsauken and back. It was two miles and I had to walk a couple times. I could be tempted to call this a total failure, not because it was, but because that’s the kind of guy I am (see above). But in those moments when I decided to throw my pasty legs back into a trot from a walk I felt a tiny triumph. I need to remember that triumph for next time so I’m writing a blog about it. I hope you can relate.

Rob Bell likes to talk about Hebrew words a lot. One of them he mentioned on his podcast again this week was T’Shuvah. Which often gets translated as “Repent” in English. But T’Shuvah comes from the Hebrew root that has to do with turning. It’s more like “come back!” than “Repent!” (i.e. “Stop sinning” or “Change your mind”). Returning is the key to spiritual discipline and discipline of any kind. You don’t need to succeed at your discipline every time. Be good at straying from your plan and returning to it. We need as many New Year’s days as we can get.

Remember (which is another way to return), you don’t need to become someone you are not, you need to return to who you really are. This body of mine can run, and I am returning to that. What can you do that you would like to return to? God is saying, “come back!”