Friday, October 31, 2008

Afterlife III

Real Live Preacher has finished posting the results of his survey on what the Bible has to say about hell, in the form of a four-part video series. No doubt his conclusions will displease a lot of conservative Christians, but his commitment to sticking to what the biblical record actually says places the burden of proof back on them.

I highly recommend taking the time to listen to all four parts, especially for those who have been steeped in any Christian tradition that uses fear of hell as a bludgeon to motivate proper belief and/or behavior.

Part 1 - Introductory thoughts

Part 2 - A survey of relevant New Testament verses

Part 3 - RLP's beliefs about hell

Part 4 - What really matters

In (very brief) summary:

-The Bible gives few details about what happens after the end of this life.

-Whenever Jesus talks about hell, it is always religious believers who lack compassion who get sent there, not unbelievers.

-Nowhere in the Gospels or Acts do we find Jesus or the Apostles worrying about the eternal destiny of the people they ministered to.

In other words, whether the evidence leads one to a universalistic position or some strain of inclusivism, it's clear that our primary mission as followers of Christ is to spread God's love by building relationships with others and giving sacrificially, not to obsess over who's going to end up where in the next life.

Monday, October 27, 2008


Win or lose, the Prop 8 battle in California has accomplished one thing, namely exposing just how weak a foundation opponents of gay marriage have to base their arguments on. Sure, it was easy enough for them to sound authoritative when most people still agreed with them out of reflex, but now that the majority is starting to shift in the other direction it's becoming increasingly clear that reason was never truly on their side.

This blogger's encounter with a pair of Prop 8 supporters sums it up pretty well. And given the increasingly irrational tone of the Yes on 8 campaign, both sides seem to realize which side has the better arguments. Box Turtle Bulletin has been working overtime to keep up with all of the lies and scare tactics coming out of that campaign.

Even Focus on the Family, which usually tries to project a veneer of respectability, has pulled out all the stops with its dystopian Letter From 2012. But then, if anyone on the religious right is in a position to gain from a Prop 8 loss, it's Focus. As the religious right shifts into a bunker mentality, Focus' Love Won Out conferences will no doubt continue to draw crowds from conservative Christians looking for hope in the midst of what they see as the end of the world.

On an unrelated note, here's another take on the most recent partisan update of the story of the ant and the grasshopper.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Afterlife II

Contrary to appearances, I've been meaning to get back to wrapping up my series on Jacques' Ellul's The Subversion of Christianity. Although I still haven't gotten myself into gear to do so, I did just come across this interesting essay, taken from another of his books (What I Believe).

Ellul is a universalist (a fact that he touches on in Subversion), and in the linked post he makes a well-reasoned case for his position. I'm not quite there myself; I see salvation for all as an outcome to be hoped for, but I'm not fully convinced of it. The bits and pieces that we find in the Bible regarding what happens after this life just don't give us a complete picture of what to expect.

The thrust of Ellul's logic goes like this:

If God is, he is all in all. There is no more place for nothingness. The word is an empty one. For Christians it is just as empty as what it is supposed to denote. Philosophers speak in vain about something that they can only imagine or use as a building block, but which has no reality of any kind.

The second and equally essential factor is that after Jesus Christ we know that God is love. This is the central revelation. How can we conceive of him who is love ceasing to love one of his creatures? How can we think that God can cease to love the creation that he has made in his own image? This would be a contradiction in terms. God cannot cease to be love.

If we combine the two theses we see at once that nothing can exist outside God’s love, for God is all in all. It is unthinkable that there should exist a place of suffering, of torment, of the domination of evil, of beings that merely hate since their only function is to torture. It is astounding that Christian theology should not have seen at a glance how impossible this idea is. Being love, God cannot send to hell the creation which he so loved that he gave his only Son for it. He cannot reject it because it is his creation. This would be to cut off himself.

Of course, Ellul's appeal here to human reasoning runs contrary to his arguments in other cases that human reasoning is insufficient to the task of understanding God, but in my experience virtually every theological position (including my own) runs aground on that contradiction at some point. Those that don't either reduce God to an overpowered human or spiral off into irrationality. To his credit, Ellul is careful in this essay to clarify that he does not assert his belief as dogma.

Ellul also argues against the idea that an individual's free will extends to the ability to reject salvation. I find his arguments on this point less convincing - which may be a sign of my own biases, since I still lean strongly toward the idea that love and free will are deeply intertwined.

Along the way he does, however, reinforce the point that rejection of the church is not necessarily rejection of God:

Without question we all know of innumerable cases in which people reject revelation. Swarms are doing so today. But have they any real knowledge of revelation? If I look at countless presentations of the Word of God by the churches, I can say that the churches have presented many ideas and commandments that have nothing whatever to do with God’s revelation. Rejecting these things, human commandments, is not the same as rejecting the truth.

I don't have the time or energy right now to examine the essay point by point; it's there for anyone interested in digging into it themselves. Regardless of whether eternal separation from God is a possible outcome for some, there is one thing I'm convinced of, and I suspect that Ellul would agree with me on this:

God did not intend for us to live our lives in a state of fear. Any church that uses fear of damnation to motivate its congregation - ever - has missed the point of the gospel.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Life Soundtrack 10

Rain Song, by Day of Fire

I don't get into praise music as much as I once did, but every now and then a song still comes along that strikes a chord with me. I don't know if this one gets sung in many churches or not, but it sure beats a lot of what does...

Friday, October 03, 2008

Some Links

A few items of interest around the blogosphere...

1. A clever ad that uses 1 Cor. 13 as a statement against Proposition 8.

2. The rather obvious and extremely relevant question nobody seems to be asking about the bailout plan.

3. Peterson's on the radio again. How much longer must we wait before he's finally crowned King (or should that be Queen) of all Media?

4. Finally, don't forget to pick sides in the great debate of our time...