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
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

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Debating Hell or Promoting an Insurrection of Heaven on this Good Earth

Becoming Unbound

Reading through Time Magazine's article on Hell below curiously provoked a positive response in me and not a negative one. Though hell is not here denied at Relevancy22 its purpose has been questioned in relationship to its usage by Christian communities. Especially as it relates to the kind of message or attitude that those Christian communities wish to communicate about God, the Bible, themselves, and ourselves.

Personally, I have moved to a position of annihilation theory rather than the stricter concept of a tortuous eternity of hell for reasons heretofore explained in past articles over the years. Reasons which are generally brought out by the Anabaptist writer in his article which basically says that hell - as we Westerners typically conceive of it - is antithetical, or non-sensical, to God's incarnated presence amongst us.

A presence that infills this sinful world with His holiness. A world that has not been abandoned (as generally pictured by Jesus' resurrection FROM this world) but embraced all the more tightly because of God's resurrection INTO this world. A world NOT to be burned up to a cinder at some future judgment day, but loved all the more fiercely. A world to be died for a million times over if need be to complete a heavenly redemption begun at Calvary's hill at the behest of a Redeemer God whose passionate heart was overcome with His divine creation.

Mostly, the Christian message should lead out with "God's love first. His divine justice second." That"Justice is not just unless love is its basis. For without love there can be no just justice or just judgment." This is the truer Christian message. Not one of hate, and wrath, and hell.

Those church communities which place the doctrine of Hell "front and center" to the Gospel message of salvation display a strong belief in a future time of justice when God pours out His divine wrath upon all sinners failing to repent of their sins. It will be a time of soulful judgment. A terrifying time. An awful event.

Whereas those communities which lead out with God's message of love and forgiveness tend to talk less of hell and more of God's love here-and-now in a heaven which is presently invading our earthly experience. Of a Kingdom eschatology which is "present but not yet." Of a heavenly kingdom in deep tension with unredeemed earthly kingdoms of our own making.

Though not necessarily denying hell's doctrinal place in the bible these latter type of churches comprehend this future time of judgment as a present time of reality requiring repentance of sin in this life. And in the repentance to rapidly make things right before God and man while we yet have life and breath in our mortal bodies rather than simply awaiting for death's "mercies" to come and remove us from our present contexts.

For these churches then, their leading message is one of God's grace. But for the former churches their leading message is one of God's judgment and law. Each tell of God's grace and forgiveness. Each tell of a heaven and a hell. But the emphasis is different. The pronunciation of the word "salvation" has been differentiated according to how each community might envisage God's gospel message here on earth.

For some, it is the waving of caustic banners decrying the sins of the world in loud voices of vindictive judgment and rapturous doom. For others, it is stripping off one's everyday clothes to be adorned with the woes and suffering ills of this world. To make this hard world a better place to live rather than a time to be bitterly endured until our Lord's "heavenly" return (though my argument here is that God is here now with us. That His return has already commenced at Calvary's tree).

Living United

Essentially, it's how we stress the syllables of the word "salvation." How we pronounce it to one another in our community circles and fellowships. How we see the world within the concept of the word itself. Whether it is one of positive action or negative reaction.

Causing us to either wear blackened glasses seeing only mankind's sin and judgment all around us. Or, by throwing those darkened glasses underfoot to wear rose-coloured tints emblazoned with Jesus' empowering ministry and incarnated resurrection in our midst here-and-now.

To see a world through God's own lenses of love, presence, forbearance, longsuffering, patient, and faithfulness. Spirit-glasses that refuse to let hell win here on earth while working hard to bring a bit of peace and healing to the brokenness and pain displayed around us.

To stand convinced that heaven doesn't come if God remains shut-up in His heavens until we show our Lord a majesty of glory to the very humanity He Himself ministered to and died for. To let our Lord's Calvary become our own Calvary's.

To bring God "down" to mankind through our own personal testaments of commitment, community, and service to mankind like as He once did.

To be the catholic hands-and-feet to a dusty gospel. And not simply be the "pro-tes-tant" to life's sins and ills to an unearthly gospel awaiting redemption that is not busy itself with redemptive work.

Is there a heaven and hell?

Perhaps it is more here on this good earth than in the sweet by-and-by of our too heavenly dreams of leaving a world bound and broken to the callous hands and hearts of our biblical doctrines.

Our agony should be God's agony. That it was but "hell to leave and all-of-heaven to stay." Though leave He must to infill, empower, and enact a church incarnated with His gritty gospel of healing and salvation to all men and women whoever they be. Wherever they be. Whenever they be.

And by these holy acts incarnate a heavenly insurrection fraught with Spirit-led redemptive power met with multitudinous blessings. This is the kind of gospel that wars against hell's reign here on earth usurped by God's reign through Spirit-works of love, charity, forgiveness, and peace.

R.E. Slater
October 23, 2014
edited October 24, 2014

* * * * * * * * * *

France, Haute Savoie, Saint-Nicolas de Véroce.
Hell painting in Saint-Nicolas de Véroce church,
Fred de Noyelle - Photononstop | RM/Getty Images

5 Reasons Christians Are Rejecting the Notion of Hell

More and more Christians are beginning to reject the traditional view of hell which states the unjust will experience “eternal, conscious torment”. Perhaps you’ve seen this change in the Christian landscape and grown confused as to why so many of us are experiencing shifting beliefs. While my Letting Go of Hell series goes further in-depth on many issues surrounding hell, here are 5 key reasons to help you understand why we are rejecting the notion of “eternal, conscious torment”:

1. Something in our spirit tells us that torturing people is morally wrong.

During the historically recent debates over whether or not it’s okay to torture people, it has only been the most sick and twisted minds among us who have defended torture as being anything less than morally reprehensible. In fact, we know that torturing is such an egregious offense to morality that we even have laws against doing it toanimals. The assertion that God himself would not only torture people but take great pleasure in it, is something that many of us in Christianity are finding utterly offensive.

2. The concept of eternal, conscious torment runs contrary to the whole testimony in scripture.

Part of the reason why a growing number of us are rejecting the traditional view of hell, is that we’ve actually re-read the scriptures without our prefabricated evangelical filter, and find scripture describe something different than a traditional hell. Yes, there are some verses that seem to hint or describe eternal torture, but like many issues, the Bible is inconsistent on the matter. However, when we look at the entire testimony of scripture, we most often see the disposition of those who refuse to enter into God’s love described as a “second death”. Traditional hell isn’t death at all; traditional hell is instead an eternal life of torture. This simply isn’t what the Bible describes when taking into account the entire testimony. Instead, we find that those who ultimately reject God– the one who sustains life– to be granted their wish: their names are blotted out of the book of life and it is as if they never existed.

3. The final judge of each individual is Jesus, and torturing people seems contradictory to his character.

We believe in a coming judgement, and believe each one of us will have to stand before the “judgement seat”. However, we often forget that this judge will be Jesus! Most of us still affirm those who refuse to be reconciled to God’s love through Christ will ultimately be eternally lost, because we believe love must always be chosen– it cannot be forced. However, the idea that the end result of rejecting God’s love will be a slow-roasting eternal torture session with Jesus at the controls, is almost asinine. This isnot the Jesus we find in the New Testament. The Jesus we find in the New Testament is loving and just– but not dementedly cruel. In fact, in the New Testament we see a Jesus who notices suffering all around him and repeatedly states “I have compassion for them”. That compassion consistently moves Jesus to action, often breaking the taboos of his day to alleviate their suffering. The Jesus of scripture is hardly the type of person who’d enjoy torturing people.

4. Jesus would become a hypocrite, demanding that we nonviolently love our enemies while he does the complete opposite.

Remember, Jesus is the ultimate judge of humanity so anyone who ended up being tortured in hell would only go there by the decision of Jesus himself. This is the same Jesus who pointed out in the Bible of his day the permissiveness of using a tit-for-tat system of justice (an eye for an eye) in dealing with enemies as being wrong. Instead of affirming we should follow this part of scripture, Jesus taught his disciples to no longer obey this part of their Bible– instructing that they should become nonviolent enemy lovers instead (Matthew 5:38). In fact, Jesus goes as far as telling them that loving enemies is a requirement of becoming a child of God. If Jesus commands that we love our enemies, refuse to use violence, and that we actually do good to those who hate us yet– eternally tortures his own enemies–he’s guilty of hypocrisy. I don’t believe this is the case– I believe Jesus commands we love our enemies because he loves his enemies… and torture is never loving.

5. We simply can’t get past the idea that we are more gracious and merciful than Jesus himself.

This is the key area I cannot reconcile with eternal torment: I have been wronged by a lot of people in my life, but I have absolutely zero desire to torture anyone. I could never make the call to sentence one to torture or “pull the switch” to commence torture, because seeing people suffer is something that disrupts my spirit. I want no part in the causation of suffering, but instead want to be an agent who helps to relieve suffering. Furthermore, the longer I follow Jesus the more and more I desire that people be shown mercy. If I were to sit on the judgement seat (something I never will), there’s just no possible way I could ever sentence people to eternal torture– especially for things like being born into an Amazonian tribe who never heard the message of Jesus. If I were judge, I would always lean on the option of radical mercy.

The question then becomes: am I, a hopelessly flawed and sinful human being more merciful and compassionate than Jesus? There’s no possible way that is true, which tells me there might be more mercy than I can even fathom dished out at the final judgement.

As more and more Christians return home to a radical faith centered squarely on Jesus, we will continue to see a growing number of bible believing, soundly orthodox Christians, reject the evangelical concept of “eternal, conscious torment”. This should be viewed as a beautiful thing, not a travesty, as we rediscover that God actually is altogether wonderful, altogether lovely, and altogether like Jesus.

Benjamin L. Corey is an Anabaptist author, speaker, and blogger. His first book is Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus (Release date, August 2014).

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