The Blog Post of Brian McLaren

Here is Brian, author of The Last Word and The Word After That:A Tale of Faith. Doubt and a New Kind of Christianity, a book that has caused a lot of discussion on the way we think about hell.

[Brian] Andrew, I’m interested in asking your readers these 2 questions:   
“For you personally, is the gospel primarily information on how to avoid hell, largely but not exclusively for hell avoidance, partially but not mostly for it, peripherally for it, or not at all for it?”
(Not sure if you could make this a poll?)   
“And if the primary purpose for the good news of Jesus is not to get individual souls out of hell after this life, what is its primary purpose?”
Those, I think, are two of the more important questions the book tries to raise – and I’d love to hear what your friends in the blogosphere are thinking about them.

[Andrew] Brian, thanks for coming. Here’s your poll.[poll removed – results posted a week later]

Andrew

Andrew Jones has been blogging since 1997. He is based in San Francisco with his two daughters but also travels the globe to find compelling stories of early stage entrepreneurs changing their world. Sometimes he talks in the third person. Sometimes he even talks to himself and has been heard uttering the name “Precious” :-)

55 Comments

  • I don’t see the point of hell. An everlasting punishment is a pointless punishment as you never get a chance to apply the lessons you’ve learned. No remission, no chance of parole. Also, how does that fit with a God of love?
    To start the ball rolling on the questions:
    #1 – No. My child of four understands the power of threat (better not do that because Daddy will shout at me). I know of no adult who has been scared into the kingdom.
    #2 – I think the primary purpose of the message of Christ is that although we might feel bad, we might look bad, we might do bad things, we might wander around the whole time messing up things, God still loves us. And that we cannot experience that love without it changing us, our priorities and our lives.
    J

  • #1 No. Jesus continually talked about the kingdom of God. About it being near. About it being costly. About it being difficult, but possible with God. Entering the kingdom of God was the agenda. And I don’t think Jesus was talking about a future kingdom in another dimension as much as living, loving as God dreams we can. I’ve seen teenagers and adults scared into making decisions. That fear loses it’s impact unless they’re in a chronically fearful environment.
    #2 I like the phrase, “It’s not pie in the sky when you die, it’s steak on the plate while you wait”. I know that’s been used to support a materialistic prosperity approach to good news. But the steak on the plate for me is quality of relationship, meaning and purpose, that comes from realigning my life with the life of Jesus so that I’m in tune with the creator.

  • I’m currently writing an essay for theological college on two views of hell – eternal punishment or annihilation. So all this discussion is quite relevant to me at the moment.
    One of the most critical factors for me is taking what the bible says about the issue of hell seriously. It seems that much of the discussion (I’m not in any way pointing to Brian or the book here) surrounding this issue is dominated by what people would like the truth to be, rather than what the word of God tells us it is (although I’m not trying to prejudge what it says). I’m interested to know what others think about this?
    #1. Partially, but not mostly for it. While Jesus wasn’t obsessed with hell he spoke about it often and certainly saw responding to the gospel appropriately as the path to avoiding it.
    #2. The gospel is the good news that God has for humanity. Jesus came and declared the truth about God, the reality of the fallness of the world and the path to restored relationship with God. As he covered these topics hell appropriately came up and the key to avoiding it was an appropriate response to the gospel.

  • What if………..
    Jesus took Jew (believer) and Gentile (unbeliever) into His body on the Cross as Paul says thus making the two one new man. What if Jesus destroyed hell on the Cross? What if The Book of Revelation is what took place in the body of Christ on the Cross? After all it says it was the Revelation of Christ not of John. What if the Kingdom came withou observance and is now within?
    What! Wait what is that I hear? Oh it was an alarm clock, I guess I was dreaming.
    Peace
    Geo

  • I am tempted to say option 3 (partially) because I believe that there is truth in Hell (quite what truth is open to discussion) BUT actually vote No because – I accept what NT Wright has to say about the gospel – being the announcement of the Lordship of Jesus – for me the gospel therefore IS the Kingdom of God (Lordship) and our seeking / participation in it. Jesus is King – Ceasar isn’t – how do we express, live and communicate that today.

  • Thanks, Andrew, for getting the ball rolling on some important dialogue.
    I love Andrew’s post on “does the church believe in heaven.” I just finished a paraphrase of the Gospel of Luke, and being immersed in Luke’s gospel for several months … it was very clear that Jesus wanted his followers to be willing to risk all for him and his gospel. Confidence in heaven made them willing to risk.
    Some of you may know that I’m very involved in trying to get action and protection for the people of Darfur, Sudan. To me, the test of my faith in Christ, the gospel, and heaven is whether I’m willing to risk my life for people who suffer …
    Meanwhile, I recently read that among the most committed Christians, “tithing” averages under 3%.
    The language of heaven and hell is intended, I believe, to push us to see that ultimate things are at stake … that we need to “wake from our slumber.”

  • ohhh . . that came in a bit late, didn’t it?
    a word about the poll. i missed one of Brian’s suggested answers (peripheral) and discovered it too late, after the votes were coming in. i decided not to include it since it would affect the outcome. sorry about that!
    And if anyone wants to leave hypertexted links to key articles or posts, then just write them in and i can convert them for you in here.

  • Re: Joe’s comment above – that no adult has been scared into the kingdom …
    I’m sure there are exceptions to this, but I find that a scare tactic turns more adults away from God and the church than attracts them.
    I wonder if this might help explain that commonly quoted statistic that hardly anyone in most churches became a Christian after the age of 14? Maybe our “scare tactics” are designed to appeal to children and not adults?
    When I read Jesus in the gospels, I see him using very strong language … there’s no language stronger than hell language … but not as a scare tactic. Rather, he’s trying to wake sleeping people to the realities of choice they face at this moment.

  • The existence or non-existence of hell isn’t really the point of the gospel. Sadly, it’s been an all too common manipulative evangelism strategy. The other dominant strategy is to say, “Accept Jesus so that you can go to heaven when you die.” Well, that’s not the point either. I’m also in the NT Wright camp – the gospel of the Kingdom is that heaven is a here and now thing.
    I’d rather be motivated by the Kingdom already come than the eternal hand slap for getting it wrong.

  • brian
    nice to have you here.
    the discussion of hell triggers talk of unbelievers getting punished, but dont you talk in your book about the more common usage in the gospels, of hell in relation to the religious leaders?
    also – we will have suddenly seminary tonight at 9pm and not 7pm as originally stated, so that you can finish your meeting in good time and join us online for a live chat.

  • In my perspective, Jesus didn’t use “hell” to persuade people to enter the kingdom of god, but to show “believers” the urgency of consequences that our life has for eternity and our discpleship (see for example Mat 18:8-9). But “hell” should not dominate our evangelism. For myself, I observe that I am rather in danger to concentrate too much on this world than on focusing toot strong on eternity. So I think, we need both, a balance between a clear view of eternal life and also a holistic, not only invidual understanding of salvation, starting in this world.
    Excuse my bad english, I’m german-speaking, but I hope you get my intention.
    By the way. My voting was: partialy, but not mostly

  • Hi Brian, great to be able to talk to you.
    As I read it, the gospel is all to do with the Kingdom (and thus Jesus’ kingship). Most of the images of being kicked out / left out etc seem to be Jesus talking about those who have been entrusted with something (talents, the vineyard) but have proven unfaithful having that with which they were entrusted taken away from them, and given to someone else who will be faithful with it. So it seems much more oriented towards the mantle of being ‘the people of God’ being redefined no longer as just the nation Israel (just as the Holy Land was being redefined, not just as the strip in the middle east, but as the whole world).
    I honestly struggle to understand where hell fits in when election (of Israel, of the church) has always been for the purpose of God’s mission, so the ‘elect’ are always trying to be salt and light as it were. Seems to me that the whole purpose of election is not to define, but rather to expand, God’s Kingdom.
    Thanks for your books – they really do help express the muddle in my head!

  • The answer to question #1 for me is, “No, not at all for it.”
    Hell may or may not be an issue but it surely is not the message of the gospel, not to me it’s not. The gospel is GOOD news! “HEY! You’re going to HELL!” is not GOOD news to me. Then again, “HEY! Heaven has come to you!” is.
    The answer to question #2 for me is, “to get heaven into individual souls during this life.”
    The Bible says of Jesus, I have come that you might have life and that more abundant.” I believe that.
    Like my Grandma used to say, “You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.” It comes down to your perspective of God. Is He a God of judgement or a God of love? My Bible says God himself IS love. So love is the message of the gospels, to me.
    Thanks for writing your book Brian. And thank you Andrew for hosting this discussion this morning.

  • Tim – I agree that we must allow the bible to speak for itself, but I confess my sunday school knowledge often gets in the way of my reading. I find myself reading what I think it says or what I think it out to say rather than what it does say.
    Jesus did use very picturesque language for hell, I’m not denying that for a second. On the whole he seemed to be suggesting that rather than being everso holy, the ‘religious’ of the time were actually headed for the municipal waste tip. Mostly he appears to be bringing the strong, the holy, the spiritual and the self satisfied down a few pegs.
    Brian – I think there are few people who converted over the age of 14 (actually I’m not totally convinced this is true) because the solutions we offer are too often cut and dried and ok if you are normal. To most broken people, good news does not involve telling them how to avoid hell. It involves loving them, building them up, caring for them. And in our instant 24/7 electronic society, the neat ‘sign here to avoid hell’ package might suit a pomo church, but it goes no distance to dealing with people’s hurts.
    We need church that behaves as if people actually matter more than counting conversions. And if we buy into that, we have to leave behind our simplistic language and get down into the dirt where people are.
    J

  • I totally agree with Joe (Start with the Scripture). This leads me to Hebrews 11: Living the kingdom life in the here and now as a pilgrim with an eternal perspective. And IF we believe in heaven (+ hell), our daily life HAS to be affected, as Andrew posts. And so I appreciate Mike’s claim for a holistic view of salvation. When it comes to evangelism, I long to invite people to the abundant life God offers. Still we need to be honest and speak about the eternal consequences. Jesus did this when he tried to wake a sleeping church (not only in the Gosples, but as well in Revelation 2-3). And it’s the good tradition of Wesley, Finney and so on…

  • I’d have to say that the gospel as I read it seems to be about anything BUT how to avoid hell. If Jesus admonition “those who seek to save their life will lose it” is to be taken seriously, then the notion of coming to Christ for the sole sake of avoiding hell is antithetical to the gospel call.
    I’d prefer to see the gospel call as embodied in – amongst other things – the Lord’s prayer, where the priorities seem to be much more focussed towards the kingdom of God coming in the here and now. And the eternal might well be a by-product of that, rather than the primary focus.

  • I totally agree with Joe (Start with the Scripture). This leads me to Hebrews 11: Living the kingdom life in the here and now as a pilgrim with an eternal perspective. Because IF we believe in heaven, our daily life HAS to be affected, as Andrew posts. And so I appreciate Mike’s claim for a holistic view of salvation. When it comes to evangelism, I long to invite people to the abundant life God offers. Still we need to be honest and speak about the eternal consequences. Jesus did this when he tried to wake a sleeping church (not only in the Gosples, but as well in Revelation 2-3). And it’s the good tradition of Wesley, Finney and so on…

  • all,
    as someone who “converted” after the age of 14 I would say scare tactics or fear does not stop someone coming to know God. but it can certainly keep us from coming to church. why is the church striving to offer solutions when maybe people just need a bit of space to explore and ask questions. as a friend once told me, church is where I am made to feel guilty.
    lisa
    btn, uk

  • brian,
    you make so many great critiques of the church (particularly modern american church). i often find myself in 100% agreement. however, i wonder if it is possible to address some of the issues without changing one’s view of hell (and other things). does the fruit or bad fruit of the “doctrine” necessarily condemn the “doctrine”? hasn’t the name of Christ been horribly misrepresented and abused throughout history? we don’t throw out Christ, rather we identify the sinfulness of those carrying out the abuses. i know that your belief system is not simple pragmatism, but how do you respond to the accusation that your “new” ideas are only responses to cultural shifts and the incompatibility of traditional christianity with postmodern sensibilities?

  • I just finished reading “the last word and the word after that” and I am fearful of being branded here as “someone who just doesent get it.” While I agree with much of what Brian wrote about the Gospel being much more comprehensive than just filling the pews in Heaven and that the Kingdom of God is here; I am still left with the big “E” on the eyechart wondering well what do you believe happens when we die? I mean I know we can go round and round talking about how this is not the question to ask, but people do and they are concerned about it, so just wondering what you do think about this Brian.
    thanks,
    ryan

  • Brian
    One thing I am sorting through is the actual message of the “Gospel”–Paul seems to point to the good news as the death and resurrection of Christ(Cor.) and Jesus calls people to repent for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand. How do we reconcile these–is the Gospel really a remix of both message? The pure gospel? that Jesus allows us to enter into the kingdom because of his death and resurreciton. What do you think?

  • My 2 cents…
    I don’t see the good news of Jesus Christ primarily as “hell avoidance.” I do see the good news as the opportunity to join Jesus in the life of the New Heavens and the New Earth (i.e., the eternal kind of life, to paraphrase D. Willard). In doing so we join in God’s process of re-creation of the world, becoming a part of that which will remain even when the rest has passed away. The “good news” is the good news of the victory of Jesus Christ over sin, evil and death that brings about new life to all creation.
    From that perspective, the purpose of proclaiming and receiving the good news is not the avoidance of Hell but the empowerment and ability to live out a fully eternal kind of life – starting now, continuing on beyond the end of time.

  • Great comments, everyone! Thanks – comments on specific questions below …
    ++++
    brian,
    …i wonder if it is possible to address some of the issues without changing one’s view of hell (and other things). does the fruit or bad fruit of the “doctrine” necessarily condemn the “doctrine”? …how do you respond to the accusation that your “new” ideas are only responses to cultural shifts and the incompatibility of traditional christianity with postmodern sensibilities?
    +++++
    OK – for the first question, I try to include a character in the book – Carol – who represents exactly the option you ask about: not changing her view on hell, but being open to other new insights. Yes, I think this is possible.
    For the second question, this sounds like you have read D. A. Carson’s book on the emerging church (which Andrew has blogged on here in helpful ways). Can I recommend you read David Mills’ (Cedarville College) helpful response to Dr. Carson? I think he addressed this question well and in detail. (Maybe somebody can put up a link here – if you google on “David Mills McLaren” it will come right up.)
    Bottom line: my new ideas are in response to reading the Scriptures, and especially the gospels, and trying to take the Scriptures more seriously than the systematic theologies I was taught … NOT that I’m against systematic theologies, but I believe they can obscure our reading of Scripture as well as aid it.
    +++++
    I just finished reading “the last word and the word after that” and I am fearful of being branded here as “someone who just doesent get it.” While I agree with much of what Brian wrote about the Gospel being much more comprehensive than just filling the pews in Heaven and that the Kingdom of God is here; I am still left with the big “E” on the eyechart wondering well what do you believe happens when we die? I mean I know we can go round and round talking about how this is not the question to ask, but people do and they are concerned about it, so just wondering what you do think about this Brian.
    thanks,
    ++++
    Ryan – that’s certainly a legimitate question. The reason I didn’t go too far into my own views on this is that I thought I was doing enough in one book to raise issues and stimulate people to think on their own. I didn’t want to impose my views but rather to stimulate thinking – so people will look at the Scriptures in a fresh way.
    I gave a better glimpse into my own thought on the afterlife in “The Story We Find Ourselves In.” In short, I believe we pass from this life into the presence of God, where all our sin is judged and eradicated, and what remains (I’m thinking of Paul’s phrase “gold, silver, precious stones”) constitutes the beginning of our ongoing identity. There is real possibility of tragedy – wasting one’s life, so there isn’t much to carry over beyond this life. There is also a great possibility for joy, because every cup of cold water given in love is not forgotten.
    I should add that resurrection – not a disembodied state in heaven – is the Biblical vision of afterlife as I understand it. I like John Polkinghorne’s way of describing death and resurrection (quoted by N. T. Wright): at death, God uploads our software onto his hardware, and then at the resurrection, downloads our software into new hardware.

  • Thanks Brian
    hey – GREAT Conversation! – its going really well so far. Thanks everyone for a good spirit and challenging thougths – and on a deep level. i look forward to see where this goes.
    The links Brian just mentioned are:
    1. Staley Mills paper (PDF)
    2. My thoughts on Dr. Carson’s book” and other links.
    Voting
    You can check on the voting by clicking the blindingly yellow “View Stats” button at the bottom of the Skinny Poll.
    Speaking of hell, a Sunday School teacher was once explaining the evils of smoking and the threat of hell to her young students and she asked the question:
    “Do you know where naughty boys who smoke go?”
    A little boy put up his hand and responded.
    “Around the back of the church?”
    ah . . hem . . well . . back to the conversation.

  • thanks, Brian. actually, i haven’t read carson and probably won’t. i have read mills (as i would consider him a friend). not wanting to press this issue, but let me re-ask my question in a new way. whether we start with biblical narrative (my preference) or sys.theo., we will do so with our cultural lenses on (some are not willing to admit this). this may be especially pronounced with the hell issue because it is so engrained in those of us coming out of 20th century evangelical fundamentalism and because it is such an intolerant concept in the world we are now living in. how do you deal with the tension caused by these cultural lenses? should we do double-takes when our interpretations become more palatable to our current context (have we been too influenced?)? how do you personally handle this tension?

  • The great McLaren blog tour

    Today is the beginning of Brian McLaren’s blog tour to talk about his latest book, The Last Word and the Word After That. First of all, what a great idea to promote a book. And, an even greater way

  • in reading this post and the comments as well as other blog posts over recent weeks i am reminded of the way i used to view salvation…what being a christian was all about. i used to think that i had to have all the right info and believe all the right things in all the right way or else…
    as a young christian (i became a christian at 15) i never asked too many questions, but on returning to the church after a few years of taking every drug i could get my hands on i began asking questions before swallowing those pills offered by the church. i had experienced on a new level my need for forgiveness, salvation from the life i was living and i had experienced the love of our Lord more than ever.
    i am living a new life, in Christ, now. eternity, by definition, is now. i can not live with this fear of hell as some future punishment for my lacking. the Lord knows my wee little brain and surely is understanding of my lack of understanding. (i say this ‘out loud’ because having grown up in the church i do have this fear i carry with me that stifles potential joy and peace)
    all this to say that a more holistic view of the cross, salvation and life here and now centered on Christ, The Word of God, is the only way to go for me.
    i am thankful for this conversation

  • Question 1: Personally, I see the gospel as partially, but not mostly about escape from hell – I say “partially” because I don’t think about it much in those terms except at times when I am particularly overcome by my own sinfulness.
    Question 2: I’m growing to see the gospel more in terms of Jesus making all things new, including a new humanity enjoying the consumation of God’s creation. Jesus’ death/resurrection is central because it ushers in this new and better way of being with God and his world. I like what a lot of people have said about the Kingdom being here and now…I would just add that I hope the here and now is not the end…that we live in a period of “now” (the Kingdom has come) and “not yet” (the final state of the Kingdom is even better than where we are now).
    I have a question for Brian. In your first comment you said that Jesus uses hell to push us to see that “ultimate things are at stake” – in your mind, what are the “ultimate things” that are at stake?

  • addendum….”a more holistic view of the cross, salvation, heaven and hell and life here and now centered on Christ, The Word of God, is the only way to go for me.”

  • Scaring people into the pews is alive and well in the Pacific Northwest, although not something I AT ALL agree with!
    Renewal is occurring in Seattle and larger cities, but in the further reaches we are finding a lot of resistance to change…
    Myself, I think hell exists but have no fixed idea who will go there or why. At times I like to think that certain vindictive, judgmental pastors will find themselves there preaching to each other in the “hot seat”. (But it’s only a brief thought.)The good news is grace, pure grace, which SHOULD change our daily lives profoundly.
    I think far too many Christians, particularly those of us who have come out of evangelical churches, are guilty of focusing too much on eternity and not enough on this world. This is the case when we evangelize and when we live and work in the world. Believe in Jesus so you can go to heaven (implicit: and not hell). We have done shamefully little to help the poor and suffering of this world; we close our eyes and think of how much better things will be in heaven.

  • good question, Scotty.
    and i feel its a question that deals with the NOW and the THEN.
    Luke 16:8 has what i call the PARABLE OF THE GRATEFUL DEAD – “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”
    how we live out our life now will affect our eternal future.
    as i am reading these comments, the music playing in my living room is Green Day’s “We Are The Waiting” from American Idiot album.
    “Are we we are, Are we we are the waiting unknown
    The rage and love, the story of my life
    The Jesus of suburbia is a lie ”
    I believe in Kingdom now but also in Kingdom to come later in its fulness, which gives me and us something to WAIT for, to invest in now and reap the rewards later.
    Are we we are, the church, are we we are The Waiting.
    Yes, acting NOW, but also waiting.

  • The first question is tough for me as I see it calling for a value-judgment as to the “worth” (if I can employ that term) of the gospel. I do see the gospel in holistic terms and do very much want to see a (re-)emergence of the importance of the present kingdom ushered in by Jesus; however, would I be satisfied with a gospel that wasn’t salvific with respect to the afterlife? Would I be satisfied with a gospel that didn’t lead people to compassion here and now? I don’t think I could say yes to either question.
    I have been recently reading Carl Henry’s classic “The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism.” Henry, in dealing with the issue of social gospel in relation to ultimate redemption points out that the two are not in contradiction. He says, “[t]he social spirit of John [the Baptist’s] preaching was not contrary to Jesus’ own message. Replying to the imprisoned forerunner’s inquiry concerning the Christ, Jesus endorses a particular expectation about the Messiah which the Baptist had doubtless gleaned from the Old Testament: ‘Go and show John again those things which ye do hear and see: the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them’ (Matt. 11:45-5; Luke 7:22). In view of so central a passage, it is difficult to find room for a gospel cut loose entirely from non-spiritual needs.” (34-35)
    All that to say, I don’t think it is an either/or question. If the message was only for the here and now, why would Jesus not have simply cured the world’s ills? I think in demonstrating compassion and awareness, our hearts are transformed.

  • I believe the gospel is for the dead to learn how to live. I never heard the gospel until the day I started to follow Christ, and even then all I knew was : Believe in Christ’s story…He died on the cross and rose again three days later. “HUH? WHAT? What the hell. Here I go” is exactly what I had said. I remember when it was fun to joke about going to hell, because all of the things we did were considered “hellbound” . It started to seem that if you wanted to have fun, then you wanted to go to hell. It all just made sense that way. When I finally learned about and came to Christ, the thing that pushed me over that edge was the possibility of being separated from my little boy. Life happens, and it can really suck at times, and most of the time there is nothing to stop it. I guess you can say I chose Jesus for life insurance. Now I’m not sure about a hell later, but everytime I think about it, it makes sense to think that before you start believing in Jesus, you’re in hell. Granted these are all thoughts under construction about hell, but at this given time it is what it is.
    Anyways I think God wants us to think of the gospel as an open door, a welcoming sign, and open arms. A rescue net as well, but not a ‘get out of jail free card’ . He doesn’t want you to be afraid of Him either.

  • Hi, everybody – I’m really frustrated because I’m supposed to be at suddenly seminary but have been trying for 40 minutes or so and can’t get checked in the hotel. Arrgh. Sorry for all those who are waiting for me to show up. Maybe we can reschedule for later in the week, after I have overcome whatever is the problem in getting in. (Apparently habbo doesn’t recognize shockwave on my computer.)
    I’ll answer a couple quick questions …
    1. I have a question for Brian. In your first comment you said that Jesus uses hell to push us to see that “ultimate things are at stake” – in your mind, what are the “ultimate things” that are at stake?
    — Whether we waste our one and one life, or we invest it in what really matters: loving God, loving our neighbors in the way of Christ. If we waste our lives, we will have to stand before God and face this reality. I can’t think of anything more serious than that.
    I also think (following NT Wright) that Jesus had a special message for his Jewish people: “you stand at risk of losing your identity as the people of God who were called “to be blessed, to be a blessing” … if you reject me, you are rejecting God.” Serious indeed!
    Today … our world is in such deep trouble, and so are we individually. If we turn from Jesus and his message of God’s kingdom … what are we going to do with our lives? Buy more stuff? Trust in more weapons? Smoke more dope? I hope that gives some idea of what I think is at stake, in this life and beyond.

  • Before, I saw this as a liberal/conservative issue, where to be liberal, one simply ignores those biblical passages that go against what one sees as a good logical enlightened answer. I was a conservative, which meant that I believed that all who fail to call on the Lord, even if they’d never heard of Him, suffer eternally in a concious state unimaginable and unbearable tourtures. However, I did see Hell as a necessary thing rather than punishment, as the soul is indestructable, and sin can’t be allowed into God’s presence. The suffering was due to being separated forever from God’s presence. Even then, I’ve seen the Good News being all about salvation from sin — not so much salvation from hell.
    These days, I’m beginning to see how one can vary from the traditional stand and still be thoroughly biblical, and without joining one of the cults and starting a heresy.
    The questions I’m asking myself now are, 1: What about those who have lived and died totally out of the reach of the Gospel, such as unreached tribes, or Jewish people during the middle ages? Does Romans 2 indicate there’s hope? And 2: How final and permant is Hell — really? What passages that seem to indicate eternal conscous pain are really understood in their context?
    Having said that, I’ve believed for a long time, even before beginning to doubt the traditions about Hell, that the Gospel is about the Church, who we are here, and the victory we are to win over the forces of evil here on earth. I also believe very much in holiness, and the fear of God, who is a consuming fire. I feel that, even apart from a literal place, a face to face encounter with Him should motivate us with a holy reverance.

  • Back to David’s question …
    Let me paraphrase it.
    The conventional idea of Hell is unpopular in our culture. If I’m questioning the conventional idea of Hell, does that mean I’m accommodating to our culture, watering down the gospel, etc? Even if I’m not, am I not in danger of doing so?
    (Let me know if I’ve missed the meaning of the question.)
    First a couple of provisos:
    1. I am not questioning Scripture, Jesus, or his teaching. I am questioning the conventional understanding of them … this is an important distinction.
    2. I am being very Protestant and Evangelical in this … I am going back to Scripture to test what I’ve been taught.
    3. I didn’t begin questioning the conventional understanding of Hell in order to be hip, conformist to culture, etc. I began questioning because I more deeply engaged with Scripture and felt that my conventional understanding flattened and oversimplified some of the richness of Scripture and created logical and spiritual problems for me and others.
    Now to your specific question … I am calling people to follow Jesus. That means calling them to repentance, sacrifice, faith, service, worship, reconciliation, character formation, spiritual transformation, commitment to the poor, willingness to suffer, courage to be misunderstood and persecuted, prayer, obedience, humility, confidence, and love for enemies. These things are not terribly in vogue in our culture.
    By the way, conformity to a Christian subculture is also an issue. It was hard for abolitionists to question the conventional doctrines regarding slavery and race … sometimes we must be as concerned about conformity to the religious subculture as we are the secular culture. Many of us are more afraid of breaking step with the former than the latter.
    But at the end of the day – we all stand in danger of conforming to this world. Which is why we must seek to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, having given ourselves as living sacrifices to Christ.
    Does that help clarify?

  • i haven’t had a chance to read the book yet, but had a question from a bit of a different angle–i’m curious what you think will happen to the devil? if i may play the “devil’s advocate” (pun intended): if we are to love our enemies and pray for them, should we be loving the devil, and praying for him? can he avoid the olde lake of fire?
    (if this is going to derail the conversation, please ignore it. it’s just one of those random thoughts that i get now and then. 😉

  • brian,
    thanks. you are answering my question to an extent. i think anyone who reads your books comes away feeling that your writing reflects a true desire to understand the bible as God’s Word. while i don’t agree with it all (you probably don’t either), i also don’t think you are simply responding to culture.
    my greater concern is not that we are formulating beliefs in answer to culture, but rather how do we determine how impacted we are by our current context. your thoughts about christian subculture are a great illustration. anytime my study leads me to a “conclusion” (bad word, but you understand) that resembles my fundamental past, i’m doubly wary of that. the same is true on the opposite extreme, when my conclusion resembles something on MTV, i don’t necessarily throw it out, but i’m cautious because i realize it might be me reading into scripture what is me and not the Word. i don’t think these are revolutionary thoughts, but i appreciate your willingness to dialogue about them.

  • hey – days over for me and i am going to bed
    thanks Brian for your input, for showing up, and for clarifying things.
    Its been a great day. Thanks to everyone who put their thoughts and questions down here. Much appreciated.
    You are welcome to comment more here, but i will not be around.
    Good night . . .

  • In reading your first question, Brian, I have to say I found myself uncomfortable with it. And I think what I find uncomfortable about it is that it seems to have an “either/or” implicitness to it, setting traditional understanding of Hell (although not spelled out per se) against the Gospel. Why? The fear of God’s punishment has long been recognized as a good thing, because at least it get’s you on the road. But most of Christian thought has never stopped there. That’s long been recognized as the lowest level of the love of the Lord. I’m reminded of the act of contrition that most Catholics make when they go to confession. It begins: “Lord, I detest my sins, not because of the pains of Hell and the loss of Heaven, but because they offend you my God, who is all good and deserving of my love.” Clearly, emphasizing the need to take our love deeper.
    So I guess, I’m not sure of your point, Brian. Is it a pastoral one (i.e., trying to help those who seem just concerned about the punishment they might face move deeper)? I guess I don’t get the implicit either/or nature of your question.

  • Many comments here assume we are all speaking of the same thing when we speak of Hell. I guess my response to Brian’s two questions is with a question. What is hell?
    If hell means “separation from God”. Then yes, the gospel is primarily about not having humanity be in a state of “separation from God.” The gospel is the good news of the Kingdom of God, both in the now and the “not yet.”
    I can’t fall into liberation theology or marxism that tries to build God’s Kingdom now with no hope of a coming Kingdom. I also think much of fundamentalism fails us by just focusing on the coming future Kingdom but not on the Kingdom “at hand.”
    Hell, it seems, is both “separation from God” now while the Kingdom is among us and is “separation from God” later when His Kingdom comes. Does this definition seem fair?
    If this is a good working definition of hell, then by all means YES, this is what the gospel is all about. It is primarily about avoiding hell. It is about being a part of his Kingdom and avoiding “separation from God.”

  • (I posted this in another part of Andrew’s blog…I see it is perhaps more relevant here…please excuse the double post but even Jesus repeated a few things to try and get the heavens-brain link activated!…
    Thank you Andrew for tolerating my counter-running).
    Laying up for ouselves treasures in heaven means understanding that the kingdom of heaven and the Kingdom of God are 2 different things. Heaven (your heavens IN you can be mixed up with all sorts of spirit influences that affect your mind and life in this death realm (with all its laws and governing forces that Jesus totally overcame…for us, as well as for himself). The Kingdom of God (Him…Jesus as Spirit) comes into the heavens (the kingdom of heaven IN YOU) to rule there and oust all the other forces that, among other things, make you believe in a far away “heaven” you go to later! Laying up for ourselves treasures “in heaven” is dealing with getting our own heavens in us sorted out and bringing the Kingdom of God into our heavenly places inside us so that it isn’t a hell there…and a lot of hell (smoke-screens) is made by religious spirits! Get real people!…life is Spirit, not a place.
    You want more?…more on this theme and other loving, sane and non-churchianity stuff at:-
    http://boltono.typepad.com

  • As I have been scanning through this fascinating discussion I find myself coming back to the thief hanging on a cross next to Jesus. He seems aware of both heaven and hell, but in addressing the Christ he does not seem to be trying to avoid the one by begging for a chance at the other.
    He has found himself here, looking into the eyes of the blameless Messiah. His own sin would have been glaring so obvious in comparison, he could have felt utterly disqualified. His only request is that Jesus would remember him…
    This is where I find myself. I’m not looking so much at heaven or hell. By some miracle I found myself looking at the risen Christ. His invitation was “you will be with Me in paradise” Emphasis on “..with Me…”, not “paradise”
    Just a thought…

  • McLaren’s Questions

    In case you didn’t get over to Tall Skinny Kiwi on Monday, Brian McLaren posed two questions: “For you personally, is the gospel primarily information on how to avoid hell, largely but not exclusively for hell avoidance, partially but not…

  • When Brian says, Jesus used “hell language” to stir up his audience to the seriousness of His mission, what the audience have caught this distinction? I think they thought Hell was a real place. Furthermore, I think Jesus spoke as if He did too.
    There doesn’t seem to be, in fact, a compelling reason for anyone in the 1st century not to believe in a literal Hell. So, the many references Jesus makes to people suffering in Hell who do not believe His message are likely just what He intended to say.
    The only alternative we have is to somehow say, as the Jesus Seminar does, that these are not the words of Jesus, but of some later redactor. Even to a postmodernist, McLaren’s twisting of Jesus’ meaning of Hell should seem outlandish. It is much better to say–as I think Brian believes–that the New Testament isn’t to be taken literally, but existentially.
    Am I wrong?

  • What I usually tell people these days is that God is just. Justice demands that the punishment fits the crime. Eternal flames of torment seems psychotic when applied to fairly good people who just didn’t get the message of who Jesus is. In a human court, even Hitler would receive a sentence of, say, 30 million years in prison before being considered for parole.
    How do we reconcile a God who is love personified with what, in earthly terms, is an unjust sentence? “Hell” is essentially a reference to a place of judgment. Biblical terms like “lake of fire” are Jewish, hyperbolic metaphors to explain the seriousness of sin. As McLaren has said, what happens next is really not much our business.
    How do we motivate people without using fear? We don’t. The Holy Spirit does that. Here and now, Christ forgives sin. God has revealed His love and future plans through His Son. We tell the world about this God-man. We aren’t in the business of threatening and inquisition.

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