Monday, March 21, 2011

Monday, March 14, 2011

Tectonic Evangelical Plates are Shifting and Causing a Quake

Ever sense the 'emergent' movement, there has been a shifting of plates causing a quake in the Evangelical Church. Current theological challenges are a result of this shift. Two areas being brought back under inspection are 'violence' and 'hell'.

A challenge has gone out to Christiandom at large, revisiting the widely embraced idea that Jesus and violence are compatible. The vast majority of Jesus' teachings show that injuring or killing your enemy is incompatible with loving your enemy. The defense that the critics give saying we ought to submit to our government and that Jesus came to 'bring not peace but a sword' are extremely liberal interpretations with little foundation. We are to submit to government, but not when it is contrary to the teachings of Christ. Also, when Jesus says he came not to bring peace, but a sword, he's not talking about a literal sword. He gives the example that many will be disowned by their loved one's for following him. The sword means that following Jesus' teachings is going to cause some to reject you.

The idea of hell is being revisited because people are questioning why so many have determined that an all loving God, who went to great lengths for humans to be forgiven, would damn so many to hell without an opportunity to do something as simple as confess and repent. The problem is two-fold: 1. It seems to overlook the great lengths God went to keep this from happening 2. The Bible doesn't actually teach this. It is fairly silent on the issue of what happens to those who die without really knowing the truth of what Christ did. So why promote a view that makes God look like the devil when the Bible is silent?

Those Protestants who are holding to "Tradition" and calling it "Scripture" are being questioned, and since they don't have firm ground, they have no authoritative basis to stop the discussion.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Heaven and Hell: Part 8

And now, against the Establishment...

Protestants defer to Tradition much more than they will admit. They cry"Sola Scriptura" but what they mean is "My interpretation of Scripture alone."

Take for instance the insistence that the Scriptures say a person is damned to hell if they don't embrace Christ in this lifetime. Now, they will make allowances for infants and mentally disabled persons, but not for those who never understood or even heard the Gospel. Not for those who were turned off by atrocity promoted in the name of Christianity.

Where is this teaching found in the Scriptures?

i agree, that the Scriptures say we must confess and repent. I also firmly agree that it is through what Christ has done and God's grace that any inherit eternal life. But where does it say that if a person, for ANY reason, is not able to make a reasonable decision for Christ in this life, then they are damned?

This is 'extra-biblical'. Indeed, there is the story of the rich man who did not get 'another' chance. He was as unjust as they come. He made his choice. This parable is not meant to depict every human being without exception. It is meant to depict what happens to those who knowingly reject justice and human decency, and thereby knowingly reject God's good intention for humanity, becoming so hardened they are beyond the possibility of redemption.

Also, the verse about how we are appointed "once to live and then face judgment" is also not a statement that a person who fails to understand or hear the Gospel is condemned to hell. When we go before a judge, i pray they will not convict us until they weigh all the evidence. Isn't it very possible that God will stand judge over a human being and determine that they were not able to make a decision because they had no information to base it on? Perhaps it's because they never heard the Gospel, or that they were radically misdirected.

When it says that God will judge us, it is not saying that the judgment, without a doubt, leads to hell. It means that he will make a determination.

No Evangelical has been able to show me a definitive teaching that says we will have full opportunity in this life to make a decision for or against Christ. It's just not in the Bible. So while it says we are called to make a decision, it does not guarantee that this life will give us the opportunity to do so. Nor can they show me where it definitively says that those who, for any reason aren't able to make a reasonable decision are shit-out-of-luck. "Sorry, you were born to Buddist parents and died of a fever at age 13! You were past the age of accountably so that just sucks!"

If God desires all to be saved, then it only makes sense that some who truly didn't have an opportunity to embrace the Gospel in this life, will be given a real opportunity somehow, someway, somewhere...before being condemned.

Is it definite? No. But is it just as possible, and probably more probable, than the unfounded conclusion that those who never have a chance to see or understand the Gospel in this life are automatically damned to hell? Yes! It is just as possible that a merciful God, who desires the salvation of all human beings made in his image (children?), would guarantee a genuine opportunity to embrace the Gospel. That is what he wants for humanity!

Is the teaching that 'those who never hear or truly see the Gospel, unfortunately go to hell' any more biblically founded? No! Absolutely not. But because Evangelicals have been teaching this for the last three hundred years, Tradition has been equated with Scripture. Shame on them!

Why not lean just as vigorously toward the genuine love of God for humanity and his true intent toward redemption?

Israel failed to be the redeemer, the light to the nations, as they were called to be. Their failure didn't mean the nations would be forever damned. Instead, God himself became human and lived among us. He did what Israel failed to do. He became the light and hope of redemption. God didn't leave humanity's destiny in the hands of a people who failed to be who they were called to be and do what they were called to do.

If Israel failed and God intervened, then isn't it just as biblically sound to say that where the Church fails, God will also intervene? He prefers to work through us, but he will not leave a single human soul to the whims of a lethargic and apathetic Church. Instead, he will judge the Church!

Evangelicals need to once again differentiate between Scripture and Tradition. Where the Scripture is silent, we are better to lean toward love and grace, because it is in these alone that we find hope.

For those who truly embrace unjust practices and have become unjust people, beyond hope of redemption, they will certainly experience the wrath of God. God detests those who have no heart or conscience and live at the expense of others. But for those who have the potential for redemption, he will split heaven and earth and give his own life.

That's Scriptural!

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Heaven and Hell: Part 7

How do we end up in hell? Does God send us there? C.S. Lewis believes that people choose hell. In his book, "The Great Divorce" he depicts hell as that which is further and further separated from society. In essence, people move toward hell by moving away from taking part in society, and it is their preference.

If God desires that none should perish, but that all have everlasting life (2 Pet 3:9). If he truly does not take pleasure in the death of the wicked, but prefer they turn toward what is right (Ezek 33:11). If he really loves the whole world enough to send his only Son to them (Jn 3:16)...then it seems like he would prefer that no one be sent to hell.

Of course the Scriptures make clear, time-after-time, that God doesn't always get what he wants. He wants humanity to follow his will and way, but time-and-again, they don't.

If we think of the Kingdom of God as a society, which by definition a 'kingdom' is a society, then it makes sense that rather than being 'sent' to hell, people are opting out of God's society. To be outside of God's society is hell, because hell is that 'place' where God and his society are not present.

People choose to separate themselves from God's society by refusing to embrace God's Way, which ultimately is the way of Love. Jesus sums up all the commandments with "Act in Love". We often fail to act in love, and hence the need for grace and forgiveness. Grace and forgiveness allow us to continue to move forward toward becoming what God has called us to be.

To reject moving forward toward becoming what God called us to be is essentially the 'opt-out' option. If it is a "Kingdom" He is bringing, then it is a "Kingdom" people he is preparing us to be. If we reject being a "Kingdom" people, then we ultimately reject the "Kingdom".

Does God 'send' us to hell? Well, if God is everywhere, but hell is that 'place' where God is not, then i suppose technically hell is not a place we can be 'sent' to. And if there is a sense in which the "Kingdom of God" is 'within us', then perhaps there is also a sense in which 'hell' is simply being absent from the 'Kingdom'. Therefore, hell is not a 'place' at all, but the 'absence' of place, and we choose to be there.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Heaven and Hell: Part 6

Why do some devious Christians hope some will have an opportunity to embrace Christ even after death, having not embraced him in this life?

Is it because we know there are many who have never heard the Gospel (i.e., infant deaths or Muslim upbringing) and feel they too need a fair chance? part. Here's another reason:

As recent headlines and world history books show; Christianity has not always been accurately portrayed by those who profess it. In addition to this, some have suffered such horrors that psychologically they are simply unable to reconcile a good God with an evil world.

Yeah, that boy who was repeatedly raped by the priest should grow up and be able to differentiate genuine Christianity from a malicious and perverted holy man...but what if his experience has overwhelmingly affected his ability to do so? What if the symbol of the cross has become his own personal nightmare?

Or what about that teenager who signed up for service in Vietnam, and after trying to match the head and body parts of his best friends with the rest of their dead bodies, was so overwhelmed by the atrocities he saw, that he simply can't believe in any form of ultimate goodness? Grace itself seems like something you read about in Mother Gooses' fairy tales.

What about that people group who embraced the people who came offering the 'good news', but later found themselves enslaved by them? Their land taken, their families torn apart, their lives devastated, and where their village once stood now stands a white chapel with a bell. Could any of this genuinely get in the way of them embracing the Gospel?

Let's not get all 'pie-in-the-sky' now and appeal to the power of the Holy Spirit which is able to help them look past all of this. Indeed, He is able, but He also works in-and-through us. He empowers believers to be 'witnesses' and when they testify to something other than the Gospel, while supposedly representing the Gospel, it undermines the work of the Holy Spirit. Is it possible for us to undermine the desires of God? I don't know...what does the Bible say about this? Why don't we start with Genesis chapter 3? God seems genuinely upset by his people's sin, and it seems to carry real consequences for the world at large.

Some Christians hope for the possibility that after death, those who truly did not have a real opportunity to embrace or reject the Gospel, will be afforded that opportunity. Not because we love to cause a commotion, but because we love the most broken of humanity and believe deeply in the justice and grace of God who understands us better than we understand ourselves and loves us more than we love ourselves.

Heaven and Hell: Part 5

Does hoping that some will have the opportunity to embrace Christ even after death lead to the logic that it's better not to evangelize those who haven't heard the Gospel? Well, it could...but here's why it shouldn't:

First, salvation in Christ is much more than simply 'going to heaven when i die'. Salvation is meant for the here-and-now. This life! Jesus says that he's come to give us life, and to give it to us more abundantly. In-other-words, eternal life starts now for those who believe (John 17:3). If we truly believe that following Christ in this life will lead to a meaningful, purposeful, and fulfilling life in the present, then we will Evangelize people with the aim of bringing salvation to them for the here-and-now.

Secondly, accepting Christ is more than saying a prayer which acknowledges we are sinners. It is this acknowledgment, coupled by our embrace of Christ's grace and our desire to live according to his teachings. There are many who will accept Christ with their lips but deny him by their lives. Also, there will be many that reject Christ on another level entirely. Paul talks about this in Romans, where he says some will be condemned because they reject the light they do have.

In-other-words, it is possible to reject Christ's grace & teachings on a subconscious level and in an inadvertent way. This means that those who never hear or understand the Gospel by way of its proclamation, may still reject it on some other basis. Only God can determine whether a person has done this. But it certainly does mean that not hearing the Gospel proclaimed in definite terms doesn't lead to a 'get-out-of-jail free card'. There's something within the heart & soul of a person which only God is able to judge. For all people, the only definite hope for salvation comes through knowingly, and intentionally, embracing Christ here-and-now.

The New Testament directs believers to share their faith and tells them the only sure way of salvation is for people to embrace the good news of the Gospel in this life. Ultimately, i believe that the proclamation of the Gospel will never prove detrimental to those who hear. In fact, hearing it empowers us to believe and receive it. Yet, not hearing it is no guarantee that one hasn't rejected it in some other way.

So if we believe that the Gospel offers us salvation for this life, and that there is no assurance of salvation outside of embracing the Gospel in this life, then we ought to be compelled to bring the good news of the Gospel to all people now, wherever they may be.

Heaven and Hell: Part 4

Bell's unpublished book "Love Wins" has caused a stir and controversy among Evangelicals. It is thought that he believes everyone will ultimately be saved. Nobody knows if he actually says this, since the book isn't available yet, but even the possibility causes the sea to grow restless and the waves to become violent.

Why are Evangelicals so vehemently opposed to the idea that there is a possibility of grace after death for those who did not embrace Christ in this life? Here's my perspective:

i think historically, the idea of hell as punishment has been a very effective tool for evangelizing the lost. John Edwards is a good example of this, with his sermon "Sinners in the hands of an Angry God". It encourages people to the point of decision, and often leads to their embracing Christianity.

If we start suggesting that all will eventually be saved, or even that there is the possibility that some will have a chance to embrace Christ even after they die, then there is the danger that people will ignore the Gospel in this life. Therefore, as concerned Evangelicals, we don't want people landing in hell because we led them to believe that there will always be another chance.

Indeed, this is a real danger and one we should take seriously. Deciding to put Christ off for another day may ultimately be the same as deciding against him, and therefore no option after death! Therefore, don't even give a hint to the 'possibility' that some will be presented with the truth of the Gospel after they die, having not truly been presented it in this life. Why? Because of the dangers involved for those who may unduly apply it to themselves!

On the other hand, what about those of us who are wrestling with the revealed Grace of God and are truly concerned with those who genuinely didn't have enough exposure to the genuine teachings and example of Christ to be able to embrace grace? Don't we have to be able to talk about our theology concerning this population of humanity? Aren't we simply looking for an outcome that seems consistent with God's revelation of himself through Christ?

i understand both the hesitancy and the necessity of dealing with this topic. My solution is that we preach Christ as the only way, and now as the only time we can be sure of receiving salvation. At the same time i think we can be open to discussing the possibilities that only seem to make sense for those who will never have the opportunity to see the truth in this life. Even if we ultimately come to the ultimate conclusion that we simply don't know, but believe God will act out of his love and mercy, desiring the best outcome for every human being.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Heaven and Hell: Part 3

My first faith crisis occurred when i discovered what denominationalism was all about. i was a new Christian and was taking in a midweek service at a friends church. i had a church i regularly attended, but they didn't have midweek services.

One of the members of the congregation asked me why i didn't attend on Sundays. i told him it was because i attended 'such-and-such' a church. He told me that the church i attended was a cult and that i should leave it or end up in hell.


Needless to say, i was rather upset by this. The pastor of the church tried to console me, but in all actuality it appeared this is what this denomination believed. My friend told me he believed that my baptism in the "Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" was invalid. i needed to be baptized in Jesus' name. i was offended and said, "Do you mean that Jesus will send me to hell on the basis of a technicality?" He ultimately said 'yes'. Later i came to learn that this denomination was an anomaly and itself considered heretical by Trinitarians.

Is our salvation based on 'correct' understanding or intellectual prowess ? Do we have to get certain theological points right in order to be saved? If this is so, doesn't it amount to a type of 'works' salvation. Are those who are less intellectually apt doomed for eternity? Are those who think they understand, but don't quite have it just right, damned? What about those who just aren't mentally capable of comprehending complex theories?

Many Trinitarians have said that those who believe the way my friend's church does are going to hell. They don't get the concept of the Trinity! They believe that God exists in different modes at different times in history. So while they affirm the Father, Son & Holy Spirit, they believe that ultimately it is one God existing in different modes in different epochs. For them, believing in three personalities is polytheism and therefore idolatry. Since they don't get the Trinity, they are going to hell.

So they stand pointing at one another saying: "You're going to hell", "No, you are,.,," "No, you are...", "No, you are..." --to infinity.

So what is the basis of our salvation? Is it what Jesus did or is it our comprehension of what Jesus did? i'm leaning toward the former.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Heaven and Hell: Part 2

i've already established the argument that hell is separation. It is where those who refuse to live according to the nature of love and goodness are separated to, for the sake of protecting a good and just society. (this interpretation leaves room for the possibility that hell is annihilation, the cessation of life)

The next question is: Do only those who believe in Christ go to heaven?

In short: yes. But there's more to consider...

It is God's desire that all see the pure love and goodness of Christ and comprehend his teachings which are the salvation of humanity. Unfortunately, due to the radical inadequacy and even twisted mentality of the Church, many will never see Christ for who he truly is, or adequately understand his message. Each person must be able to make a decision based on accurate representation. i believe that each person can and will receive an opportunity to see Christ clearly and to decide from there. Some will do this consciously and others subconsciously. Some will do it in this life, and others at some other point and in some other way. (Christ descended to the dead and proclaimed the gospel to them according to the NT)

The Scriptures never say that our choice must be made in this life. It only warns us that if we knowingly reject the truth, then we've made a decision. Only God gets to determine who has knowingly rejected the truth.

The Church is meant to be a witness, but for many it has been a hindrance. Today, American Christianity (especially Evangelicalism) seems to be more aligned with a political party than it does with the revelation of the New Testament. God will hold this against Christians, but not against those who are turned off by it.

Often times people reject a false image of Christianity, not knowing the difference between misrepresentation and the actual story. They will certainly not be damned to hell because they rejected Tea Party politics, or some other gross distortion of the Gospel. Somehow, in some way, in this life or whenever God chooses, each person will see and understand the truth and make a decision for or against the revelation.

If this is true, then we have good reason to believe that there will be many more who enter into everlasting life than most Christians have traditionally believed. If accepting God's good invitation to join his good society is based on a genuine understanding and acceptance of that society, and not the gross misrepresentation of Christ by his 'devoted' followers, then there is reason to believe that many will choose what is good and right.

Heaven and Hell: Part 1

Today someone asked me the question: "Can someone lose their salvation?" Of course there are different theories on this, and in the end i land on the side of "yes". But don't judge me too harshly, i also believe in a God who is incredibly more gracious than we are. Who knows us better than we know ourselves, which means he understands the underlying reason for our deficiencies better than we do, and therefore has more compassion for us than we do for ourselves.

Here are my thoughts on heaven and hell. First, i believe, as Scripture says, that God does not desire that any perish, but that all have everlasting life.

What is heaven? Heaven is simply a term we use for a mode of existence in which humanity lives in harmony with God and one another. It is a society where people live justly toward one another, treating others as worth while. Treating others as better than themselves. There is no need for criminal justice in this society, because people choose to act justly toward one another.

What is hell? Hell is separation from God and all that he has created. This could take on different forms, but i doubt that it is a literal fire. Jesus describes it this way for two reasons. 1. Gehenna (hell) was a literal place. It was a trash heap outside of Jerusalem where people burned their garbage. Some criminals, who people felt didn't deserve a decent funeral, were executed and later tossed into the fires of the trash pit to get rid of their bodies. 2. This imagery came to be a metaphor for those who would be destroyed by God for their refusal to live according to the laws of goodness.

Hell, therefore, is not a place where God takes pleasure in severely torturing people for eternity. Instead, it is where people who refuse to live justly toward others are separated so that they can do no further harm to God's rescued society. A society based on selfless love and goodness. Hell is separation for the sake of protecting a good and just society.