November 2, 2011

Hell's Bell's and Jesus

A friend posted on his Facebook Wall an article titled Rob Bell's Replacement Speaks Out on Bell and Hell by Shane Hipps (who is the pastor that replaced Rob Bell at Mars Hill in Detroit). Now Hell is hardly a favourite topic of mine. But after I read this article I knew I wanted to respond.

Before we start I have to say it is telling, and very sad that the editor included a note that says, "...we encourage you to share your thoughts in the comment section below--we also encourage you to be civil and use Scripture to back up your arguments." After skimming the comments I can't help but think may of those who left comments choose to ignore this this 'suggestion'.

With that out of the way let's wade into this 'fun' debate.

Let me sum up the article;

1. Jesus was more concerned about this life then the next life
2. Jesus did not spend anytime post resurrection talking about Heaven or Hell
3. Therefore everything we think we know about Heaven and Hell is at best semi-informed speculation
4.  Christians spend too much time talking about semi-informed speculation
5. Let's move on and not worry too much about Heaven and Hell instead we should focus on following Jesus in this life

First let me say I agree with his overarching idea, that we as Christians can't get so focused on the afterlife we miss everything that needs to be done in this life. It is unfortunate that Christianity often is reduced to this.

That covers about everything in this article that I agree with.

This Picture Has Nothing To Do With The Blog Post.
I Just Wanted A Happy Picture While I Talked About A Unhappy Topic

Now on to the disagreeing.

First the trouble with the argument; "If it were important to [Jesus], you’d think he would have written a book about it. Or preached a sermon or two. But he didn't" is Jesus didn't write any books, and he preached few sermons as we would understand them. If we were to extend this argument to it's fullest conclusion, almost nothing that Christianity claims to be true would appear to be important to Jesus.

Prior to his death and resurrection Jesus told parables, and stories. Those parables and stories were about a number of different topics. Some were about following him in the here and now. Some were about the Kingdom of God/Heaven. And some were about the afterlife, both Heaven and Hell. I think saying Jesus was more concerned about this life than he was about the next is a hard argument to make. I think a safer one would be that for Jesus he saw little distinction between this life and the next.

Also let's not forget for one minute that Jesus spent a fair amount of time talking about our eternal destinies. I suspect the reason he didn't spend any time post Resurrection talking about the afterlife was he was a little busy explaining the resurrection, and what that meant for the disciples. 

Second I think brushing off Heaven or Hell as 'too speculative' is far too cavalier. Frances Chan says it better than I could in his book, erasing hell, "So I decided to write a book about hell. And honestly-I'm scared to death. I'm scared because so much is at stake. Think about it. If I say there is no hell and it turns out that there is a hell, I may lead people into the very place I convinced them did not exist!...When it comes to hell we can't afford to be wrong. This is not one of those doctrines where you can toss in your two cents, shrug your shoulders and move on. Too much is at stake. Too many people are at stake. And the Bible has to much to say."

Maybe it would help all the Shane Hipps of the world if all of us who self-describe as Evangelicals would admit that for far too long we had a love affair with fire and brimstone preaching, converting people by scaring the Hell out of them, and focusing on getting into Heaven instead of living a Christian life. Then they would stop downplaying to importance of this doctrine. Maybe if we did that we all could move off this debate and focus on living a Christian life in the light of the world (earthly, heavenly and yes even helly) that Christ has revealed to us.