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.)