Who Are All These Damn People? (the Dangerous Doctrine of Hell)

hell_the_alternative.jpg

I just finished reading Brian McLaren’s “New Kind of Christian” trilogy and thought that it was excellent. I highly recommend these books to everyone, including those folks who are skeptical of the emergent church.

The last book in his series, “The Last Word and the Word after That” was probably his most controversial as it dealt primarily with the doctrine of “Hell” and did so in a very unorthodox fashion. I will leave it to you to read this important book (the series need not be read in order) and make up your own mind as to whether McLaren is a prophet or a heretic. (I vote for prophet, myself). McLaren feels that our opinions on this topic are of paramount importance in influencing how we see God, the Gospels and the Kingdom message of Jesus. He also suggests that the misinterpretation of this concept has led to much of the world’s suffering throughout history as well as today.

His book piqued my imagination (one of the best things about McLaren’s writing is that rather than give you a straight answer he encourages you to ask more questions, seeking the truth by further study and prayer). For some time now I have had a little bit of trouble embracing the creeds, or professions of faith, that most churches have incorporated into their ecclesiology. I have made many professions of faith in the past, but a verbal profession, no matter how often stated, does not guarantee a heart-felt belief. I decided to go back and look at some of the common creeds and see what the churches are having their people say about hell.

I was surprised that only one stood out in this area, the Apostle’s Creed, and in the modern English language version hell is modified to ‘death’ or the grave. In this creed Jesus descends to hell (or the grave) to preach the good news to those who are trapped there. In some of the others (i.e. the Nicene Creed) there is specific reference to Jesus’ death and resurrection but no descent into hell. I will leave the debate as to whether there is a biblical reason for believing in hell or not for another time but for right now I would like to talk about who might be there and why. (For the record, I personally I have come to believe that the current concept of Hell is the result of outside cultures infecting Judaism and Christianity over the years with their own myths.)

Some of the scriptural support for the Apostle’s Creed’s statement about hell can be found in these scriptures:

Job 38:17, Psalm 68:18-22; Matthew 12:38-41; Acts 2:22-32; Romans 10:7; Ephesians 4:7-10, 1 Peter 3:18-20, and 1 Peter 4:6

After reading these scriptures I find only slim evidence for believing Jesus ever entered into a physical place called hell (or Hades) but never the less what is interesting is the idea that if he went there he did so to bring the Gospel message to those who already died.

Now if God exists outside of time, if time is merely part of the physical universe, then it could be surmised that for God there is no past or future, only an eternal present, or ‘now’. As Jesus came to die for all mankind, paying the price for everyone’s sins from the beginning of creation until he comes again, then it would be logical to assume that he is right ‘now’ meeting those of us who did not know him in life, giving them a chance to surrender to him after the ‘first death.’ (I like the idea that all of the people, who have ever died or ever will die, will ‘awaken’ simultaneously together in our ‘future’ but in reality what is God’s eternal ‘now’.)

Is this Inclusivism or Universalism? I don’t think so. It might be possible for someone whose life is made up of more ‘chaff’ than ‘wheat’ to be left with nothing after being exposed to God’s fiery judgment. And this idea does not support the premise that all faiths would serve God as well as that of those who truly follow Christ’s teaching ( I am not including what has historically been called Christianity in that description.) But it would encourage us to stop considering much of the world’s people as being the “damned”. I think this attitude could help us to serve the Kingdom much more effectively than the prevailing concept of hell.

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  1. #1 by albert on October 23, 2006 - 4:06 am

    Now if God exists outside of time, if time is merely part of the physical universe, then it could be surmised that for God there is no past or future, only an eternal present, or ‘now’. As Jesus came to die for all mankind, paying the price for everyone’s sins from the beginning of creation until he comes again, then it would be logical to assume that he is right ‘now’ meeting those of us who did not know him in life, giving them a chance to surrender to him after the ‘first death.’ (I like the idea that all of the people, who have ever died or ever will die, will ‘awaken’ simultaneously together in our ‘future’ but in reality what is God’s eternal ‘now’.)

    Interesting concept you’ve got there! My thoughts on it have been, mostly, that those roughly following the Mosaic Law would be the ones who would “pass”, as it were. But I would argue that, in essence, it wouldn’t necessarily “help us to serve the Kingdom much more effectively” (by removing the stigma) so much as it would serve as a bit of doctrinal creature comfort for the tireless, but limited, missionary.

  2. #2 by lovewillbringustogether on October 3, 2007 - 1:48 am

    Time is an Illusion – lunchtime doubly so.
    (Douglas Adams, ‘Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy’)

    If you really want to go ‘out there’….All time exists simultaneously however the only probabilistically 100% ‘real’ time is ….’Now! ( now!, now! now! and so on…)

    Because of the way our physical brain’s function ( in a use it or lose it fashion) we currently mostly just remember past probabilistic events that occured in a previous ‘now’ and not those future probabilistic events that occur with identical probabliity to those that are ‘now ‘Past’ (probabilities generally decrease from 100% towards a limit of zero (non-existance) with distance from ‘now’).

    with me so far?

    We use our memory in a mostly consciously one-way fashion – backwards! We can relearn how to remember forwards if we chooose to ( ‘remembering’ – reexperiencing in fact – the future!). It is however a probabilistic future and what we learn of it ‘beforehand’ is capable of altering probabilities such that an event we pre-remember may never come to exist in the timeline of probabilities we actually end up following – this is why prediction is a less perfect science than is hindsight.

    Buit i digress from my aim here which is to suggest that ‘now’ is the only ‘real’ time and living permanently in it is what God does and we only attempt if we bother to perfect our awareness of what is ‘real’ as opposed to what is merely a projected and observed ‘broadcast’ that we pick up after the event(s).

    Our illusion of what Time ‘is’ is very convicing but is far from actuality – it is merely what we believe is most ‘probable’. 🙂

    God is far less ‘limited’ in His perceptions nor subject to our illusions of ‘reality’. Miracles are merely examples of God showing us a fault in our perception of just what is ‘real’.

    Now, as for 3 dimensional ‘Space’ and our physical bodies existing in it being all that ‘is’ – or is not… I’ll leave for another time : )

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