“The debate over Bell’s new book “Love Wins” has quickly spread across the evangelical precincts of the Internet, in part because of an eye-catching promotional video posted on YouTube.”
source: AP article by Tom Breen: Who’s in hell? Pastor’s book sparks eternal debate.
An essential, and well-timed debate for our 21st Century human journey! Breen gives historical proof of ages old quarreling on this question. It’s not new! But here we are, we’ve had centuries to chew on this one. Good timing.
I’ve not meant to wander into heated theological debate. However, the writer of the article, (Tom Breen, Associated Press); the pastor whose firing is central to the article, (Chad Holtz); and author-pastor Rob Bell, (book Love Wins, central to the entire debate), make several points that dovetail with this blog’s themes.
Blog themes include: asking challenging questions of human beliefs and practices, remembering and considering value of ‘ancient teaching’, and bringing more recent insights and understandings into our study (psychology of late 20th Century).
The vigorous and heated controversy in response to Bell’s book hits the first two blog themes hard, and I’m sure – wherever arguments are underway – also brings challenges for which psychology is an authoritative resource.
My post won’t “engage the debate”. Readers are encouraged to go to the link and read the article. Much that Breen includes can, (and should, in the name of critical thinking), lead concerned readers to take-on the questions raised.
Instead of my own engagement here, I’ll add a bit about my personal history, as it relates to the debate questions. Some, I’ve described in “MaggieAnn“. More: My great-grandfather on one side immigrated from Switzerland, and was an ordained minister in the Evangelical Reformed faith. Great-grandparent generation of family on the other side had at least one Presbyterian minister. The shift from where ‘they’ were, to where ‘I am’ has been a 3-generation process.
My own “spirit-wrestling” (my label for dis-entangling from anxiety over questions on the nature of god) has been an on-going process. It started in childhood, and did not seem to reach a more comfortable resolution until I neared “senior” age. I appreciate, and sympathize with, the extreme discomfort available to anyone working on the question raised by Southern Baptist Seminary President Albert Mohler, quoted by Breen: “And there’s a sense in which we desperately want to say that. But the question becomes, on what basis can we say that?“
Mohler is accurate to suggest a feeling of desperation in this belief-challenge. I sometimes found it so, even though I began hearing and following questions raised in childhood. My early start included childhood exposure to logical dismissal of hell as a physical reality. This wasn’t casual, but developed from adults in my life struggling with the questions, giving long-term reading, study, and thought to the matter. (Adding to overall belief struggle, and its depth of quandary to literal believers, is an almost unspeakable related question: If ‘hell’ isn’t a ‘physical’ experience of some kind, then what about the nature of ‘heaven’? The full narrative becomes problematic.)
I’ll stop here on how this deep struggle might unfold for anyone engaged. I will say that teachings attributed to a person Jesus, regardless of questions about truth of narrative detail, and regardless of debates of ‘nature of divine inspiration’, remain among my deepest influences. I don’t happen to care if the teachings originated as religious belief describes, or if an alternative possibility is ‘truth’ – that the teachings are an ancient version of human collective consciousness recognizing promise left unfulfilled.
The teachings of compassion, and “the greatest of these is love’, stand alone for what they say. The teachings ‘exist’. They ‘came from somewhere’. They prick complacency for good reason. They are profound for the challenges they (should) offer to human society at every turn.
The teachings dove-tail with another ancient teaching: “Know thyself” – this second briefly worded instruction brings late 20th Century psychology insight into play. Late 20th Century psychology offers language, models, and possible way to understand ‘being human’ not available in times past.
Two additional quotes from Breen’s article are especially important for anyone challenged by ‘reality of hell, nature of salvation’ questions.
Bell’s book, Love Wins, Breen says, “criticize(s) the belief that a select number of Christians will spend eternity in the bliss of heaven, while everyone else is tormented forever in hell”. He quotes Bell from Love Wins: “”This is misguided and toxic and ultimately subverts the contagious spread of Jesus’ message of love, peace, forgiveness and joy that our world desperately needs to hear.””
I never fully understood the Christian teachings of the crucifixion. I never ‘got past’ implications of “social activism” taught by example : chasing money-lenders out of a sacred place; the story of the good Samaritan.
My personal ‘experience’ contemplating the crucifixion was a sense of ‘sharing the agony‘ of brutality emerging from human ignorance, human neglect of what was taught. Belief that the crucifixion somehow ‘got me and my kind off the hook’ in our response to suffering just didn’t ‘sit well’. For me, the crucifixion ‘said’ : “Here’s how far you have to be willing to go until humanity understands compassion, and releases the ignorance of “self-interested” solution.
I keep thinking of “a child shall lead you”, and thinking of who we are – our inborn capacities – and how children (current and past – meaning ourselves, our parents, etc…) are so spontaneous in generosity, forgiveness, and cooperation, and how little we’ve done to keep those inborn qualities alive in broad social interaction and governance structures.
(Note: I’ve linked throughout text above to a few relevant posts found here ‘at the well’. There are others. As I’ve suggested, this debate ‘dovetails’ with much Well theme and purpose.)