Shuck and Jive

Friday, April 08, 2011

Oh Hell...Again

I was in today's Elizabethton Star. Evangelical superstar Rob Bell has shaken up the literalists with his book, Love Wins. I wrote about this a couple weeks ago. In an article on "Hell: Is It Real?" local reporter, Rozella Hardin, wanted opinions of local preachers regarding hell. She chose two of us. There must be 500 preachers in Carter County. I apparently get picked because I'm so contrary.

This was the view of the other preacher, Rev. Jack Roddy, of the Watauga Association of Baptists:

The Bible describes hell as a literal place where real people dwell. Just as surely as there is a heaven for those who have received God's grace, there is a hell for those who have refused Him. In the Bible, God proclaims He loved all people so much that He gave His Son Jesus so that anyone who received Him would have eternal life and not perish. So then, hell is a place where people suffer utter, endless hopelessness, like continually dying.
He wrote more but you get the idea. This is what I wrote:
"Hell" has no reality to it except as an expression (ie. war is hell) or a metaphor for intense suffering. Hell is a symbol that is used to bully and cajole people into believing and doing things from fear rather than love or reason. We might call it cosmic negative reinforcement. "Hell" is one of those doctrines that we ought to quickly discard into the dustbin of history. I am glad Rob Bell is helping evangelicals question this abusive notion.
I think it is interesting that Ms. Hardin was curious about this enough to ask my opinion. This is only a guess on my part, but I think more and more people are questioning beliefs they have heard in church all of their lives. That is refreshing.


  1. "I think more and more people are questioning beliefs they have heard in church all of their lives"
    Amen Bro John!

  2. Well, if Rozella wanted to have representation from the two ends of the Hell debate, I would say she got them!

    "So then, hell is a place where people suffer utter, endless hopelessness...."

    I can't imagine a more cynical statement, frankly.

  3. "I think more and more people are questioning beliefs they have heard in church all of their lives"

    And that may well be true. Problem is beginning in the late 19th Century and through most of the 20th atheists thought this was happening. Curiously the opposite was happening. Don't have actual data but I would guess that less Americans believe in evolution than did back in 1960. Personally I think these things go in cycles. Of course down throughout the ages Christians had no problems syncretizing like going to church regularly but also going to a spiritualist to talk to their dead relatives.

    I will admit that post Modernity may have messed it all up.

    Oh and before anyone asks I think that the images of hell in the NT are just that: images. Hell is spiritual distance from God. If ya don't want to be with God then you get what you want.

    What I want to believe is C. S. Lewis' story in the Great Divorce. Every once in a while people in hell can get on a bus and go check out the Kingdom of God. Even though Lewis does use Platonic images I like the idea of more chances. Most Evangelicals don't know that Lewis was a Universalist.

  4. In the NIV, the term 'hell' shows up thirteen times, and according to Jesus, the only people going to hell are the bible thumpers (teachers of the law and Pharisees).

    Peter says people whose tongues are fire, go to hell too. Like gossips and slanderers.

    Others are in danger, like folks who don't cut off their offending hands and feet and eyes. But that is only a threat. Those texts are more easily characterized as metaphorical.

    So I find comfort in knowing that if there is a hell, it's for Fundamentalists, and people like Church Lady and the Laymanites.

    The rest, evidently, we get a pass.

  5. @Jodie That is funny! Bad boy you.

    @Robert I didn't know that about CS Lewis, but I am not surprised. He was close to Barth in theology wasn't he? I often thought Barth was a closet Buddhist. : )

  6. @Jodie Don't forget the outer darkness, Gehenna and the worm that won't turn. The group is much bigger than the Pharisees. Consider Mt. 25 and the people who don't use their gifts or don't help Jesus out when he needs them, like the naked, sick, hungry, thirsty and in prison.

    @John I don't think C. S. Lewis is like anyone but himself. One of my favorite stories about him is that one day he and a friend were walking and came upon a beggar. Lewis emptied his wallet into the beggar's hands. Later his friend said, "You know he's just going to waste it on ale." Lewis said, "Well that's what I was going to do with it."

    His space series is really quirky. In "That Hideous Strength" he manages to mock most of modern atheistic philosophy by telling a fairy tale.

    But then he was primarily a professor of philology. That's gotta make one a bit weird.

  7. I don't think those 'outer darkness' passages were Matthew's best moments. It may feel good to hope that those you don't like will go to hell and it is somewhat effective as a motivating tool to get people to do what you want or else go to hell, but I think Matthew could have done better than put that superstition on the lips of Jesus.

    And if Jesus really did say it, then shame on him.

  8. @Bob,

    I was just looking for "hell". Outer darkness, I don't know what that is. Is it oblivion? Eternally gone once you die? Hell is supposed to be eternal life in a bad place, right? Death eternal is just gone. Flushed down the sewer. Recycled. Bye bye.

    (Actually, I'd love to be recycled into a giant oak tree or something).

    But I get the social gospel. It's something else that Bible Thumpers, the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees, are bad at. They are more afraid of sounding like communists than they are of telling Jesus they didn't want to waste their talents sounding like Godless commies.


    Shame on Jesus? Oooh. Even hypothetically, it's hard to say that of one's teacher. Peter tried once.

  9. @John

    Of course if there is an afterlife and there are two possible places to spend that afterlife (traditional Christianity) then the warning, from Jesus or not is friendly, isn't it? Kind of like the sign that warns you that the bridge is out.

  10. @Jodie

    I have no real definition of outer darkness. Best guess? If one assumes the world of the writers of Genesis, etc. the universe is in a space God opened up. Water is both above and below that space. Maybe the outer darkness is somewhere outside that space? In any case (and I'm not looking this up so be kind) I think being in the outer darkness is always accompanied with the gnashing of teeth.

    Seriously I think it means not with God. At least that is where hell, outer darkness, Gehenna the firey pit and all those other places would be for me. Without God I would rather not be, in this world or in any world after this one.

  11. @Jodie re: oak trees.

    while being an oak tree could be a lot of fun ending up as furniture would not.

  12. @Robert Unless, of course, there is no bridge to be out in the first place. I have left that whole business of hell, outer darkness, "separation from God", whatever one calls it behind. I find no truth in it and much harm.

    @Jodie Peter got to be head of the church! : ) Just because he was Jesus doesn't mean he was right about everything. Point is if you think something is wrong it doesn't matter what authority supposedly upholds it.

  13. How do you know Peter got to be the head of the Church?

  14. @ John re: keys

    Doesn't that make Peter the sexton?

  15. He did, huh? Ever wonder what those keys looked like?

    And that rock, which rock was it again?

    That is a famous passage that has been thoroughly turned upside down, over the centuries, IMHO. Do we really think that the rock upon which Jesus built his Church was Peter? Peter may have had the keys to the kingdom in his hands when he died, and he may have been named after the Rock, but one more time... What is the rock upon which the Church was built, and what do the keys to the gates of the Kingdom of God look like?

    Curious metaphor. Ought to make a good sermon some day.

  16. I don't know Jodie, you started with the Peter stuff. My point is that there is no hell even if Jesus the Christ disagrees with me and threatens to send me there if I don't believe him.

    If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.

  17. That's why I asked why you thought Peter got to be the head of the church. Surely you don't think Peter even existed, right? He's a metaphorical figure, a character in a story.

    Later amplifications of the story have him being the head of the church and little boy Jesus blowing life into the nostrils of clay pigeons.

    It's hard to tell where the myth ends and fantasy begins.

    Maybe hell is just something we tell the victims in places like Darfour will happen to their opressors, so they won't feel so bad when they die meaningles deaths after living meaningless lives. Maybe it's something we tell ourselves will happen to their opressors, so we can get off the hook for looking the other way. If there is a hell we can leave justice up to God.

    And maybe Jesus was just saying that God has returned the favor. We don't get to look the other way.

    And maybe Peter is more than just a character in a story, and maybe he did get nailed to the keys of the Kingdom, and planted on a rock.

    If on the other hand all you know about hell is what the Fundamentalists have to say about it, well, they don't know what the hell they are talking about. But we already knew that going in.

  18. As I said in the newspaper, Hell is a metaphor (ie. intense suffering). It has been used as a tool to bully and threaten. This is long before fundamentalists. Roman Catholics have hell, Protestants have hell, Muslims have hell. I reject all of them. I can not conceive of any good thing a doctrine of Hell has for humanity. While I might relish in the thought of certain people spending eternity in Hell, it is in the end nothing more than a fantasy of revenge. Some might say that it is a deterrent, Obviously, it does have effects. Unfortunately, it works to create guilt, fear, and shame, in people who would otherwise have been more psychologically healthy.

    The bottom line for me is that it is simply not true. It is not real, does not exist. It is superstition. I think the role of the church in our time should be to repent and reject its superstitions of the past.

  19. I find the pseudo-evangelical emphasis on hell pretty non-sensical, like most of their patently contradictory beliefs.

    If they're actually Calvinist, and are sure of their election, Hell shouldn't much concern them.

    And warning people about going to hell? Doesn't make much sense if you believe in election either.

    And whining because some preacher asks questions about hell? Even more nonsensical to someone who claims to be truly evangelical.

    But then, I've spent years attempting without success to try to understand all the contradictions in which the phony-evangelicals believe. I don't have much hope in doing so in my lifetime.

    To me, hell is like NASCAR. I've heard of this thing, but it doesn't interest me, nor do I believe I will ever see it, so I don't really spend much time obsessing about it. But if that's what other folks want to spend time thinking about, well, good for them.

    I suspect the reason the BFTSs want so much to believe in hell is so that they can be assured of spending the afterlife nagging everyone else with "I told you so's."

  20. "Hell is like NASCAR..."

    Now that statement could land you in the fiery pit here in Bristol, TN.

    I have you call you on this heresy, Alan. Bristol Motor Speedway is actually heaven.

  21. :) Well, honestly NASCAR was the first thing that came to mind when I realized the original analogy I typed was probably too uh ... provocative for a family blog. So NASCAR was the compromise edit.

    So feel free to swap out the word "NASCAR" for any other noun that I have no interest in at all, and have never seen, and have no likelihood of ever seeing in my life, but that other folks appear to enjoy obsessing about.


  22. I knew it was an arbitrary noun. I had to rib you as we are NASCAR crazy here. We worship the gods of the oval.

  23. Here is a letter in the Elizabethton Star today:

    Having read the articles referring to whether Hell exists, I am disturbed that people with influence are telling others that Hell is no more than an expression (i.e. "War is hell.")

    Mr. Bell's book title "Love Wins" is indeed a wonderful message, but the love that Jesus lived and taught is what wins for those who accept Him as their Savior. What the love wins over is eternal torment (Rev. 20:10), and that is eternal damnation, Hell.

    On the Day of Judgment, none will question Heaven and Hell; as the Bible teaches, there will be no doubt as to the real existence of both.

    Superstition runs deep.