According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future
aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson
We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord
Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater
Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma
It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds
assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Rob Bell, the SBC, and The Age of Accountability

by Rachel Held Evans
posted June 22, 2011

Yellow RosetteAs you may have heard, last week the Southern Baptist Convention responded to pastor Rob Bell’s controversial book, Love Wins, with a resolution declaring that “the Bible clearly teaches that God will judge the lost at the end of the age,” and that such judgment will include the “conscious, eternal suffering" for all non-Christians.
Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, explained the rationale behind the resolution as such:
"The publicity surrounding Bell’s new book indicates that he is ready to answer one of the hardest questions -- the question of the exclusivity of the Gospel of Christ. With that question come the related questions of heaven, hell, judgment, and the fate of the unregenerate. The Bible answers these questions clearly enough, but few issues are as hard to reconcile with the modern or postmodern mind than this. Of course, it was hard to reconcile with the ancient mind as well. The singularity of the person and work of Christ and the necessity of personal faith in him for salvation run counter to the pluralistic bent of the human mind, but this is nothing less than the wisdom of God and the power of God unto salvation."
Rustin J. Umstattd, assistant professor of theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary added:
"It is clear that Bell is not comfortable with the idea that billions of people may suffer in hell. But then, who is comfortable with that? The majority of evangelicals who hold to the orthodox understanding of hell…are troubled by its implications. But being troubled, even deeply troubled, by the implications of the biblical text does not give us a reason to abandon the text or force it into a mold that rests comfortably with us. It should be our goal to let the Bible be the source and shaper of our doctrine.” (emphasis mine)
In other words, Christians cannot allow their instincts to inform their theology, only Scripture.
But this rationale represents a major inconsistency in Baptist teaching.

If the members of the Southern Baptist Convention truly believe that only those who place personal faith in Jesus Christ will be saved and that no concessions to this belief should be made on the basis of its troubling moral implications, then for consistency’s sake, they must also vote to condemn the teaching of the age of accountability.

The age of accountability refers to a belief that children under a certain age (usually twelve or so), will be granted salvation regardless of the religious affiliation of their parents. Most Baptists I know believe in the age of accountability, and even the SBC's Baptist Faith and Message makes it implicit in its statement that people are not morally accountable until “they are capable of moral action.”

And yet this concept is never explicitly stated in Scripture, nor does it appear in any of the historic Christian creeds.

The age of accountability is a concept born from the compassion of the human heart, from a deep and intrinsic sense that a loving, good, and just God would not condemn little children or the mentally handicapped to such suffering when they could certainly bear no responsibility for their faith. It is a theology created by discomfort.

I’m not interested in defending Bell’s book in its entirety—I thought some of his exegesis was sloppy—but the questions he raises about the destiny un-evangelized are not that different from the questions traditionally raised by Baptists about the assumption within other Christian traditions that unbaptized babies spend eternity in hell.

What is the difference, really, between a four-year-old child who is incapable of making a conscious decision to trust Jesus because of his age and an adult living in outer-Mongolia in 50 A.D. who is incapable of making a decision to trust Jesus because he couldn’t possibly hear of him? Aren’t both of them born with a sin nature? And aren’t both of them inherently valuable to God? If exclusivism is true, then the majority of the human population was damned to hell without even the possiblilty of being saved.

I am often told by fellow Christians that an inclusivist reading of Scripture is the result of a sentimental “bleeding heart.” And yet most of those people embrace without question the age of accountability and reel at the idea of a non-elect two year-old burning alive for eternity. I believe we were created to reel at that idea, just as we were created to reel at the idea of a young Muslim woman being tortured forever by a God whose name she never knew. I believe that our impulse towards grace is a reflection of God’s image inside of us, not a weakness of which we should be ashamed.

In matters like these, Christians should of course be careful of asserting with absolute certainty how God will judge our fellow human beings. We should also be wary of any suggestion that our instinctive desire for love and compassion is a weakness that should be overcome. The very formation of the Southern Baptist denomination reflects the disastrous consequences of confining morality to that which is explicitly stated in Scripture to the neglect of the conscience. Conscience should be tested with Scripture, certainly, but it should never be silenced.

Regardless of one’s position on the theological issues here, it’s plain to see that if the members of the Southern Baptist Convention intend to hold to their exclusivist position consistently and condemn as dangerous all who seek to harmonize scripture with the human conscience, then it’s time for them to confront their own theological accommodations and declare the unconverted child as hopeless as the unconverted adult.

I only hope that this time it will be harder for the delegates to raise their hands.

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