Not Taking Scripture Seriously

Thesis: Evangelical fixation on hell allows us to not take scripture seriously, particularly the words of Jesus.

If nothing else, the dust up over Bell’s upcoming book has unmasked the evangelical fixation with the afterlife and the fact that it has become a disproportionate focus in our understanding of the gospel.

The point of this post is to suggest that it is this fixation and the lens it creates in the reading of Scripture that has allowed evangelical christians to misunderstand, dismiss, neglect, and even ignore the example and words of Jesus.

Jesus told us of the things that degrade our soul and make us ineffective at demonstrating the life of the kingdom – anger at our brother, lust, greed, self-indulgence, hypocrisy, empty religion, shutting the door of the kingdom in others’ faces, neglecting justice and mercy.

His words do not present hell as the negative counterpoint to heaven. They emphasize the violence of obstructing sinners, the poor, and the least from participating in the Father’s love. The message of the Father’s love and our redemption through Jesus certainly does not need the contrast of eternal torment to make it good news.

Scripture does not fully reveal the circumstances of the afterlife. The details have been debated over the centuries by followers of Christ. Rob Bell’s understanding of heaven and hell may not line up with your views or mine; but whatever his views, he does not know with certainty and neither do you.

What do we know?

  • We know that love wins and that our eternal destiny is in the hands of the loving Father who provided for our adoption.
  • We know that we have been given the message of reconciliation, which is the opportunity to share the good news that we are loved by this Father.
  • We know that it is hell to live under the lie that we are separated from God.

The question of evangelism is not whether we have given someone adequate information about heaven and hell. The in-or-out mentality that is hyper-concerned with what is stamped on your eternal bus ticket will always fail to reflect the life of the kingdom to the very ones to whom Jesus would have spent his time with.

The question is whether we have adequately witnessed, with our words and our actions, the depth of God’s love for every one. Will we take scripture seriously about the life of the kingdom now, during our years in this life?

(I shouldn’t be posting, but I needed to say that.  I always enjoy reading your comments, but will not be able to respond this time.)

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19 thoughts on “Not Taking Scripture Seriously

    1. khigg,
      Really? If that is true, then let’s address the hell that the lost live in and the hell they may be destined to by demonstrating the love of the Father and the message of reconciliation. The good news for the lost is that they are loved and embraced by the Father and that his eternal purpose is for their inclusion in His love.

  1. You expressed so well why I get frustrated with the message of the gospel represented as “fire insurance” that “you too can be saved from eternal conscious torment by my god who loves you”. How is it GOOD news that this angry punishing deity is going to torment you forever unless you accept this “get out of hell free” card like me?

    The GOOD news is that you can be set free from captivity to that which is making your life a living hell TODAY. You don’t have to build your life on sand. You can LIVE Matthew 5-7.

    The Gospel is not “good news” of bye and bye pie in the sky.
    The Gospel is “Thy Kingdom come ON EARTH as it is in heaven”. TODAY!

    I have been an evangelical for >30 years and I have observed up close and personal that the belief in that “get out of hell free card” leaves people trapped and complacent about their flesh. I think they have missed the true GOOD NEWS!

    1. Charis,
      I agree. I have also observed how a wrong focus prevents us from understanding and living in the reality of what Jesus said, and it definitely skews how we share the love of God with others.

  2. Linda, I am so glad you are still blogging. As to the topic at hand, I often ask people why the Old Testament says virtually nothing about after-life. No good answers have come from people other than lots of pontification and condemnation. After life is just one of many Evangelical fixations which are very foreign to Scripture. It is amazing how different God’s Word looks after having divorced myself from the traditional church.

    1. Hi David,
      I hope to be blogging a little more by this summer. I think in general, the OT understanding of the afterlife was sheol, the grave. I also think there are some, David and some of the prophets who sensed a bigger picture of God’s purpose. This verse is amazing to me, considering this is so long before the birth of Jesus:

      For I know that my Redeemer lives, And He shall stand at last on the earth; And after my skin is destroyed, this I know, That in my flesh I shall see God, Whom I shall see for myself, And my eyes shall behold, and not another. How my heart yearns within me! Job 19:25-27

      It speaks of reconciliation, new creation, resurrection of the flesh, and our eternal life in God’s presence.

      I have found the early church fathers to be more faithful to scripture in their interpretation. It has been interesting to learn how much of what has been presented as “truth” is simply foreign to Scripture, or a very biased and warped reading of Scripture.

      (Homework to do now! I get sucked back in so easily because I love these conversations. :) )

  3. Our loving God does not keep all people from harm before they die. Why would one think that He does after they die. Is it possible that one’s actions before they die impact their direction post death? If one has constantly rejected the Holy Spirit before death then what evidence is there that this rejection will not continue after death? Perhaps Hell is merely the destination determined by our trajectory before death?

    1. Bob, I agree that our trajectory in this life will impact our experience in the afterlife. However, I am hopeful that when all things are made new and we encounter Love, our experience of His light and truth will be transforming.

  4. The heaven/hell dualism of modern evangelicalism has done a great disservice to the message of Yeshua. Let’s face it Gehenna, was the rubbish dump for ancient Jerusalem, where many of Yeshua’s listeners would have ended up as dead corpses after the fall of the city in A.D. 70

  5. I believe this: The institutional church is too fixated on our love for God and not nearly enough on God’s love for us. ‘Our love for God’ is inadequate and tends to become self-centered. ‘God’s love for us’ becomes an incredible motivator. Paul’s prayers in his epistles are always for the Spirit to open the eyes of God’s people to see and understand the fullness of the dimension of God’s love (e.g. Ephesians 3:14-19). THAT is the transformational power that the church hungers for, but few are feeding it. “We love because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19). If we do not fully comprehend His love, we will never adequately love – neither God nor our neighbor! Is it incumbent upon Christ’s church to reveal God’s love to a lost world through our attitudes and actions, not to threaten an already unbelieving world with God’s wrath. Where’s the good news in that?

    1. So true Ken. If the focus is about our love for God, it becomes all about what we are doing and how well we are doing it. It amazes me that some people think that if you explain the generosity of God’s love, people will have no motivation for relationship with Him. In my opinion that completely underestimates and diminishes the transformational power of God’s love and grace.

  6. I’ve come to a few conclusions lately which address the concerns that neo-orthodox Christians and other traditionalists have with a seeming denial of the reality of hell and the rationale behind the sternness in Jesus’ warning regarding that reality:

    1. The warning of a hellish existence (whatever it may all entail in detail) now and in its trajectory for the future is generally aimed at those who considered themselves orthodox and therefore “safe”, not in need of repentance, uncaring about the poor and about showing practical love to those in need, and condemning towards those they considered unacceptable before God.

    2. I still haven’t found an actual message preached to the NT church that would make God’s acceptance and grace contingent on man’s choice or try to scare people with the possibility of God rejecting them and sending them to hell if they refuse to accept it. The Good News always focusses on what God has already done in Christ and invites us to enter into that reality by faith. “Hell” remains as a natural consequence of not wanting to enter the realm of God’s love because of our own misconceptions regarding that light.

    3. Bringing up heathens as agents of condemnation in Matthew 12 (Ninivites / Queen of the South) is a shocking reminder to exclusionists that there is often more true seeking after God among those we consider “out” than amongst those who thought they knew themselves and others well enough that they could cast verdicts regarding who is saved and who is not, because of their own perception of “orthodoxy”.

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