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.