Monday, May 08, 2006

To Hell, Or Not To Hell? Is That The Question?

Some may need to forgive the analogy, but figuring out the theological position(s) of the emergent movement must be what it is like trying to catch a greased pig. In this recent Q&A with Out of Ur, Brian McLaren talks a bit about his views on hell and judgment. There is much in what he says to be affirmed and echoed. He believes that at times the church has become hung up on the details of hell a bit too much to the detriment of ethical and kingdom living in the here and now. He says such things as:

…if we can identify some people as God’s enemies, hated by God for all eternity, we can find ourselves directly disobeying Jesus’ clear teachings about loving our neighbors and our enemies.

This next excerpt is interesting for two reasons. First, on the surface, most of it is obviously true and I can imagine even some hard-line brimstone preachers agreeing with it:

For example, I think God will be far more displeased by our carelessness toward the poor, or by our lack of peacemaking, or by our unrecognized racism and nationalism than he will be about whether you’re an exclusivist or not.

The second reason is it interesting is its slipperiness. In a style overwhelmingly typical of emergent types, McLaren constructs a false dichotomy, hence labeling and nearly slandering his detractors, and inserts his political views to boot. And all of this comes in a semantic package that reminds me of the chocolate-coated pill in The Princess Bride: it makes it go down easier. Often we find ourselves swallowing the pill and nodding in agreement before we are able to dissect the dichotomy.

There is absolutely no warrant to insinuate that exclusivism is inherently incompatible with such things as peacemaking, fighting racism, and care of the poor. McLaren accuses old-line evangelicals of living in a myopic world, and one cannot but help get the feeling that in reaction, McLaren’s world is no less so.

To add vaseline to the oil, McLaren’s initial reaction to the issue of hell and judgment is pastoral but evasive:

… in the end I’d rather turn our attention from the questions WE think are important to the question JESUS thinks is most important.

The obvious implication? People who believe in and teach a real hell and the need for a real decision for Christ are not in-step with the concerns of the very Jesus himself. Matthew 7:23, 8:12, 22:13, 25:46, Mark 3:29, and Luke 16, to name a few passages, disagree. And the thread through them all was summed up by Paul in Romans 10:9-10.

The theological path forward is not about vilifying traditional evangelicalism. It will doubtless involve some painful reflection from time to time, but there is an old saying about babies and bath water that needs heeding.

6 comments:

Jeff Broderick said...

Over the past 1 1/2 years I have been getting deeper and deeper in my Christian walk. In fact probably a lot of you may have even noticed my approach on speaking about God, and Godly things even changed some. Well there is something happening that all should be told. PLEASE listen because this is very important.

In the world of Christianity there is a huge movement being made. It is called the Emerging or Emergent Church movement. This movement is the biggest movement ever in Christianity. What is really happening is written in the book of Revelations. For any of you that want to see a Biblical Prophecy unfolding. Go read Revelations I think it is Chapter 13. It speaks of the One World Religion, as well as a One World Government, and Bank System as well. My friends the Emergent Church Movement is the begining of this prophecy being fulfilled. Let me explain why it makes since, and who I would have to say appears to be Huge players in this, and maybe even the Anti-christ himself.

The Emergent Church has also been seen under the term Modern Church, or Seeker Sensitive Church is also a big name it calls itself. What this movement has been doing is disguising itself as Christianity. However what it has really done is, watered down the Gospel, built itself upon tolerance, preaches peace joy love and happiness. It is also now moving into much more dangerous areas. It is now starting to teach that contemplative prayer or silencing. It is begining to introduce Universalism throughout it. Universalism and Christianity are a contradiction to one another. Now do not get me wrong, Peace, Love Joy and Happiness are true legit fruits of the spirit BUT They are a RESULT of having a true conversion and being born again. It is not that those feelings make a RESULT of being saved, as they like to preach. Within the Emergent Church there are key component that are missing. The Biggest is the Gospel. These Churches they do not speak of words such as; Judgement, Righteousness, Eternal Torment, Hell, Repentance, The 10 Commandments. How can you preach the Gospel without these things? The other thing you will see within the Emergent Church is that they do not preach from the Bible. They instead tell stories, and every now and then will quote a verse that ties into their cute story. You see they use psychology and self esteem preaching so you leave there going "WOW that place is wonderful, it is so spirit filled", or you would say exactly what they were designed to make you say. "WOW I did not know church could be so cool, man it was like we were not even at a church". Well I will tell you there is a simple reason why watching an Emergent Service does not feel like being in church. The reason is because IT IS NOT being in church. My friends do not be fooled.

Now Key Players. First let me tell you how close to this subject I am. Some of you may recall a thread a while back that I showed you the Church i was going to. Well this Church is one of the biggest players in this Movement. It is Willow Creek Community Church, head Pastor and a Leader of this movement is Bill Hybels. I was a member there for years and was even a youth pastor there. Many are and will be blinded, I thank God for showing me the truth. Ok soem other Key players would be Brian Mclaren, Joel Olsteen, Andy Stanley, Rick Warren, Rob Bell, Robert Schuller and many other well known pastors. Now for the Biggie, this is the one that (well i am not saying he is, so do not Tag me on this), but some big signs that he could be the Anti-christ is Bono of U2. Yes when you are done laughing I will tell you do your research before scoffing at this comment. Bono is a very influential person all over the world. He has met with all the most powerful leaders and they have all befriended him. He preaches Universalism which says "All roads lead to God" and will be the One World Religion the Bible speaks of. At his last concert he held up a sign that said COEXIST: The C was a half crescent moon for the sign of Islam, the X was the star of David for the Jewish symbol and the T was the cross for Christianity. He began chanting MUHAMMED, JEW, JESUS ALL TRUE. and he began chanting over and over while thousands began joining in. Now is this just Bono showing off or is it deeper, while I looked into it and found out, that he is not only going to be one of the Lead speakers at The World Leadership conference that is hosted by Bill Hybels and Willow Creek Church, but he is also been named as the President of the new World Bank, and now a winner of Nobel Peace Prize. Well he sure would fit the bill. The Anti-christ is going to diguise himself behind , Peace...Joy...Love...and Tolerance. It is going to look good and will Appeal as the Bible says to people, but my friends do not be decieved.

To any Christians that maybe at or were saved at an Emergent Church. I just want to say 2 things. First I was right there with you at the biggest one on the country for years. Now I was not saved there, because I was saved very young before ever experiencing a seeker sensitive church. But I do know many that are truly saved and that is the only church they had been to. So I am not saying you can not be saved there, because God can save you anywhere, it does not matter where you are. What I am saying is that their message is not Biblical, this is NOT "Our Best Life Now" our best life is the one to come. The Bible does not speak the Health, Wealth, Prosperity that this Movement teaches it speaks of hard times, and trials, persecution. We Have 400,000 missionaires in Africa right now, locked up in a freight car being tortured and executed, we have another 200,000 in Korea in what is being called a concentration camp. My friends the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not to be taken lightly and peace, joy, love and happiness, is not the theme of it. This is what our brothers and sisters are dieing for, do not be decieved. Amen!!

Nathan said...

Phil -

Just a couple of thoughts. I agree that the dichotomy is in no way necessary - peacemaking is not incompatible with exclusivism and vice versa - but I think McLaren is commenting on what has actually happened to evangelicalism of late, at least on a surface level. There is no dichotomy, but many conservative believers have focused much more heavily on doctrines like exclusivism to the detriment of taking real action to help the poor, end conflict or combat racism. This is obviously not true in every circumstance - evangelicals have been on the offensive about getting involved in Darfur, for example - but it is the general perception.

But like you, I find McLaren's stubborn refusal to actually say something concrete about doctrine, salvation, hell or exclusivism quite frustrating and certainly seems to indicate that Emergent is in for some real trouble down the road.

Small Group Guy said...

prognostication about the anti-Christ...WOW. I'm not even going to dive into that one.

I agree that McLaren is a little bit light on doctrine, but I believe he is expressing a very common frustration for us 20 somethings, that is the neglect of doing what Jesus taught. Jesus said feed the poor, visit the widow, care for the orphans. I grew up in a church that did NONE of that..Nor did they encourage it.

We have had our social consiouness awakened by things like Darfur, North Korea, Iraq etcetera. We are moving towards being not only the hands of the church, but the feet as well. Until you have your consious shocked by walking in the slums of Idia, or holding a baby just hoping for a chance at life in Ukraine, or see children by the thousands without parents in Sudan (all of which I have seen) it is hard to imagine what being the feet of Christ means.

Tim Van Tongeren said...

For some irony, according to wikipedia, Bono is not the president of the World Bank:
"Later in the year, before Paul Wolfowitz was chosen to replace James Wolfensohn as president of the World Bank, Bono was spoken about as a serious candidate for the position. United States Secretary of the Treasury John Snow said about Bono on the ABC news talk program This Week: "He's somebody I admire. He does a lot of good in this world of economic development." The selection process for the position is by member governments, however, and his selection was considered unlikely."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bono

Brian B said...

Funny Bono should come up - the mother of one of my friends just ran into Bono in a New York City airport (dressed very shabbily, like apparently he tends to do). (Another weird coincidence - a U2 song just started playing on my random list. I'm sure there's a supernatural explanation). Anyway, she recognized him, went up to him, and thanked him for the good he's been doing recently, especially in relation to African debt relief, etc. He politely thanked her, and then, with a look of concern, said "Listen, I'm glad you're in favor of good things like that, but can I ask you - do you know Jesus?" She told him that she's a teacher at a Christian high school, and he insisted on writing her class a little note, telling them to focus on Jesus in their lives. Pretty cool! (The smart-aleck in me would at this point say "and that is all the proof one needs that Bono is the anti-Christ, since, obviously, the anti-Christ would want to appear to be Christian - like a wolf in sheep's clothing." Luckily, I am firmly resisting my inner smart-aleck).

Regarding McLaren - though I fully agree with Phil's point about his general slipperiness on doctrinal matters, I wonder if in the second quotation, he isn't just trying to point out the imbalance in current Evangelicalism's focus. Do Evangelicals spend time, effort, and money on the whole spectrum of "Christian issues," or only a select few - to the exclusion of things that ought to have higher priority in the Christian life? IF (a big if) he is not saying "inclusivism is fine" but merely "it'd be wrong to give up exclusivism - but perhaps a greater fault to hold on to exclusivism WHILE at the same time giving up a whole host of other important Christian duties," then I'd be inclined to agree with him about such an imbalance (although not, in my view, an imbalance in which too much focus is put on exclusivism - I think the Christian Church needs to have that as a very high priority, given the current cultural climate.)

The imbalance, I think, is in not giving enough focus to other important things. Evangelicals need to realize that the world will see Christ through our living example - if our living example says that the only important issues are abortion, gay marriage, the Pledge of Allegiance, defending a president's dishonesties because "he's a Christian," and being able to say "Christmas" around December, then our culture can hardly be blamed for rejecting our invitation to join the church.

Phil Steiger said...

Wow! Just a tip to you bloggers looking for traffic but don't want to "go political"-talk about the Emergent movement or one of its leaders. Thanks to you all for your thoughts!

I must admit, Bono as the Anti-christ is a new one to me. While I share some of Jeff's general concerns with emergent theology and ecclesiology, I would not say it is the biggest movement ever in Christianity. And, Tim, thanks for the clarification on the whole World Bank thing...I was worried there for a minute.

As for McLaren's apparent general disposition toward escatology and this-world ethics, I am giving up guessing what he is trying to get at. Like most of you alluded to, he really doesn't get at anything in the interview. The game of charitable attribution should come to an end at some point, especially for someone who is so widely published, interviewed and listened to. Why not take him at face value? He is given more platforms than most to clarify his theological positions and doesn't do so. I also imagine that his form of "irenic" theology is pleasing to many who also don't want to say anything too specific about difficult, but biblically defined, issues.

In an ironic, almost postmodern sounding, reaction to his interview, I thought, "the answer is BOTH/AND, not EITHER/OR."

Additionally, I believe there is a good theological argument to be made for the warrant of this-world ethics being grounded in eschatological realities. In other words, it might be the case that if one wants to ignore or dismiss entirely "end-times" issues, they are going to have a hard time grounding their ethics.

One of the scriptural themes that startled me the most as a young Bible teacher was the direct link Paul and others make between life after death and the shape of our lives in the here-and-now. (I know it looks bad to make that kind of assertion and not cite anything, but I don't have the time to hunt a lot of that down at the moment-if something strikes me, I will return with a triumphant flare.) Bringing God's kingdom to bear on earth is a mandate that surely many segments of the Christian church has missed on, and it is good for us to re-engage with social issues. But all these actions are a "foretaste of glory divine," not the glory itself. When God's will is done here on earth it is like it is in heaven: it is not heaven.

And Christians have always had their political "wish-lists." Some of the things Brian listed are very important, and others are, at the most, indicative of other important issues. A whole other set of Christians defended a president who was arguably a rapist, certainly an adulterer, and legally a perjurer. A wise man once said there is nothing new under the sun.