Hellbound? Talk Back: Part 1, Would You Still Be a Christian If Heaven Didn't Exist?

Last week it was my honor to participate in a talkback with filmmaker Kevin Miller after a viewing of Hellbound? Though my interview footage with Kevin didn't make the final cut for the documentary some of it can be seen in the Special Features on the DVD.

I'd like to take a few posts this week to work back through some of the Q&A Kevin and I hosted, the queries we fielded and some of our answers regarding the view described as "universal reconciliation in Christ" or "evangelical universalism."

Today's post is about heaven and hell as motivating forces in the Christian life.

Specifically, Kevin and I were asked the question, to paraphrase from memory, "If there is no hell what's the point of being a Christian?"

You'd be surprised how often this question comes up. And it's always startling that people need to ask it.

First, most of those who espouse evangelical universalism actually do believe in hell. As Kevin pointed out, the issue isn't hell per se but if hell is an end in itself or a means to an end.

Setting that aside, the question really has to do with human motivation and the role of punishment. That is, the question assumes that if there isn't some really bad punishment out there then why would anyone become a Christian and keep at it?

Such a theory of motivation is pretty scary and sad. It suggests that, at root, Christianity is a fear-based religion. And no doubt it is for many people. Which is why so many Christians are violent. Where fear is the motivation violence of all sorts soon follows.

By contrast, Kevin and I talked about--get ready for some crazy talk!--you know, love and joy being the motivation for the Christian life.

But along with those comments I went on to pose a question that I've heard attributed to Tony Campolo. I said this, "Why don't we flip this on its head. Rather than asking about why you should be a Christian if hell didn't exist, let me ask this: Would you still be a Christian if heaven didn't exist?"

We can see the thrust of Campolo's question. By taking other-worldly punishments and rewards off the table we are forced to consider this-worldly motivations for being followers of Jesus.

And that completely reconfigures how we understand the motivations of the Christian life.

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62 thoughts on “Hellbound? Talk Back: Part 1, Would You Still Be a Christian If Heaven Didn't Exist?”

  1. "What is the motivation, without hell?" Although the question involves some serious moral, theological and philosophical problems, I think it is rooted in a real psychological insight. We really are much more motivated by the fear of loss than the hope of gain. See: loss aversion http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loss_aversion. Fear of infinite and permanent loss is presumably more motivating than fear of partial loss. So I think that people who ask this question could slightly rephrase it, and avoid the ridiculousness of the more common version: "Eternal conscious torment in hell is the strongest motivator for lots of Christians, and there are good reasons to think it is more motivating than positive things. Don't we reduce the motive to become a Christian when we eliminate or soften hell?"

    This is part of why I see value in driving those who systematically manipulate hell against each other. I think a compelling response to Pascal's wager looks like this: why do you suppose that your system, in particular, is what determines who goes to hell? If you are a Christian, there is plenty of scriptural warrant to believe that those who measure hell out to other people will be subjected to it. You think people get tortured forever for thinking the wrong thing about Jesus? Maybe you think some wrong things about Jesus. Matthew 25 sure seems to suggest that on the day of judgment, everyone is surprised...

    The trouble with Pascal's wager is that it is an argument for everything. If you can suggest that there is an infinitesimal chance that anything at all will result in endless torment, then it is rational to avoid it. Fight fire with fire. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Controlled_burn

  2. I don't believe in a conscious afterlife. I haven't for years. So far I'm still a Christian. :)

  3. I definitely wouldn't want this to be read as a dismissal of heaven or hell.

    Here's one reason why. Many Christian pacifists root that witness in the resurrection. Christian pacifism only makes sense, many have argued, if there is a resurrection, a vindication of the martyrs. If there isn't a resurrection and subsequent vindication then the warrant for pacifism becomes pragmatic rather than theological in nature, pacifism has to "work" in this world rather than being a sign of the eschaton.

  4. Richard's blog is one of the most consistently updated ones there is, pretty much Monday through Friday at 5 a.m. Central Time with occasional (fairly rare) additional posts later in a day or on a weekend. You might want to try the Feedly RSS reader or something similar to make sure you don't miss anything, otherwise, it's easy to keep up here.

  5. Thanks Eric. I've weighed getting a Twitter account. I fear I'd start it and fail to attend to it. Same with Facebook. So rather than do three social media platforms poorly I try to do one--this blog--well.

  6. It was just pointed out to me that some kind soul has created an automated Twitter feed for this blog:


  7. Will you be discussing some of what you cover in Authenticity of Faith? It wasn't until I read that book that I realized I don't feel existential comfort at the thought of heaven and truly began to examine why I am a Christian and what that means for my life in the present. Unless I am misunderstanding what you've written above, it seems the health mind/sick soul discussion plays into this on some level. Either way, I am looking forward to the future posts in this series.

  8. But I am not a child. I am capable of making decisions based on something other than terror.

    I acknowledge that God breathed life into me and into my neighbors. For me the issue should not be what God going to do to me if I am disobedient to God's know will, but discerning how I should respond to that reality.

    And yes, humans employ both fear and love to manipulate those around them. Is God so limited? Should we teach that God is so limited?

    And how do we balance the profound merciful and loving kindness claims of God with the primitive notion that God's principle means of procuring obedience is simple reward and punishment?

    And this ignores altogether the concerns of those preaching against a works-based salvation.

  9. I won't be getting much into that material. But it very much applies. I'd argue, like I do in the final chapter of The Authenticity of Faith, that sick souls and Winter Christians, given their doubts, are well-positioned to seek out and enjoy the this-worldy motivations of faith and to develop a more authentic and non-violent faith.

  10. Not to be argumentative, but I think it is reasonable for adults to be motivated by fear as well. I am afraid to step out in front of oncoming traffic. Do you think I shouldn't be? I don't think I would be better off without that kind of basic fear. I completely agree that life, and spirituality, shouldn't be centered in fear. I'm a big fan of awe, thanksgiving, gratitude and all of that. I just don't think that loving, favoring and even preferring these modes suggests that we need to do away with reasonable appeals to fear, as well. Or to look at the kinds of examples that I actually find compelling: I think we are probably causing global climate change. That is a fearsome prospect, and we should be afraid of the consequences of this kind of responsibility. The oil companies would be quite happy to have us all start singing "Be not afraid," meaning, don't worry about the consequences of global climate change.

    I'm happy that you don't want to reduce God to someone who is putting us in a 'skinner box', as Richard described it. I'm totally with you, and him, in avoiding that kind of reductive approach. I'm against reductionism all around. However, negating that reductive approach doesn't require us to adopt another kind of reductivism, which would claim that we can't have self-interest and virtuous life, or that we must choose to either be all about love, or all about fear. I simply don't see how it makes any sense at all to suggest that fear is always manipulative or primitive, or that fear and love are somehow opposed to each other. If I am about to step out in front of traffic, I hope someone loves me enough to tell me that I should fear the consequences of that decision.

  11. That makes complete sense, and I'm not going to argue against resurrection as such. Still, I'm not expecting any kind of literal resurrection, though I'm happy to be wrong about that. And I'm a pacifist who doesn't think there's a pragmatic warrant for it. I'm not sure the eschaton or resurrection have to be events that we are expecting in a concrete way in order to be a real and functional part of our theology. Rather, the claim of resurrection is a claim that, despite its apparent failure, the Cross is nevertheless the grain of the universe.

  12. Of course hell is a motivation:

    Mat 18:9 - And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into the hell of fire.

    Luk 12:4-5 - I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that can do nothing more. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!

  13. I agree. It may not be a literal resurrection, but some sort of eschatological perspective (the grain of the universe) is brought in.

  14. It may be a small distinction I am about to make, but I think it is significant. An adult chooses not to step in front of a car not from fear of unimaginable consequences, but from a reasonable apprehension of certain adverse consequences: I don't want to be crippled or killed, or otherwise suffer the pain of needless injury. Using the boogie man of an imagined eternity of torment in the pit called hell to intimidate people into right conduct is something very different.

    My personal belief is that God does not want to intimidate us into right conduct. In fact, I think God is only partly interested in our actual conduct. God is more interested in our motivations. God is as interested in whether we are angry or insulting to our neighbors as God is interested in whether we murder our neighbor. More to the point, people cannot be intimidated into a grace-filled life. At most they can be intimidated into right behavior. Kingdom living defines not just actions but motivations.

    Finally, if the only reason people are righteous is through fear of punishment, they in fact are not righteous at all, they are merely afraid. Living in fear is not Kingdom living.

    By the way I don't take our exchange as argumentative, but merely grappling with issues which cannot be disposed of with simple answers.

  15. As for the role of self-interest in one's faith life, I agree that no matter how hard we try we cannot stray too far from it; self-interestedness is genetically coded by God into humans. But I think that in our relationships with those we love, there is a transformation within each of us, causing us to strive to put the love of the other first, ahead of ourselves - we serve them, and we hope they will serve us in some sort of mutual kingdom dance. So too in our relationship with God: we are invited to embrace God as our creator, and as our host in the Kingdom. What self-interested person would not want to share a table with the Creator of All Things? What self-interested person would not feel jubilation that God personally invited them into God's presence, to share in the wonder and Awe of God's realm? Who would not feel honored and blessed by the invitation?

    On the other hand, do we really think God would bully and intimidate us into such a place? Does it make any logical sense that fear and intimidation would have any currency whatsoever in such a place?

  16. Peter Rollins tells a remarkable quasi-parable in "The Christian Heretic" that is along these lines. He asks the reader to imagine meeting Satan in the afterlife, being told that Christ has been sent to hell along with everyone who believes in Him, and that Satan determines who gets into heaven. Satan then asks you to deny Christ and go to heaven, or profess faith and be sent to hell. (The whole point of everything in Rollins' book is not to give you pat answers but force you to think through what kind of Christianity you are espousing/living. He argues for a faith that is its own reward, not a faith that leads to a reward or helps you avoid a horrible punishment)

  17. I can't say that hell as a lot to do with why I am a believer at all. I really don't give it much thought. Maybe because I have no intention of finding out. I have given heaven more thought, but not really as much as you might think, I guess to me, it can't serve as much of a motivator because I can't even imagine it. I am a believer now because I know what my life was before I knew Him. For me it is about the relationship and what He has done, is going to do, and is doing right now. I believe He will be there, but I couldn't fathom living this life right now without Him.

  18. Fair enough :) I think the root of the discussion is semantic. Which is fine, semantics matter a lot! Thanks for chatting with me about it.

  19. I have just enough orthodoxy still in me--just enough respect for all the people, from Paul to the creed-makers, who have thought a literal resurrection is a basic tenet of Christianity--to be slightly amused by the notion of a Christian "happy to be wrong" about there not being a literal resurrection.

    Imagine your amusement if I said:
    "The refusal to kill people does not have to be concrete, in order to be a real and functional part of my pacifism. Rather, the real claim of pacifism is that peace-loving is the grain of the universe. I'm a pacifist, but I don't believe in literal nonviolence. But I'm happy to be wrong about that."

  20. Well, you do a good job and I thank you. I refer to this blog often in conversation with my husband. It gives me a lot to think about even though I consider myself maybe agnostic these days. So, thanks.

  21. I'd like to weigh in and say that fear is always detrimental and never useful. Think about walking on a balance beam. If it's only 1 foot off the ground, you can probably cross it easily. But if it's 1,000 feet off the ground, you're probably going to get vertigo and fall. Fear won't help you cross it, it will literally do you in. Especially if you embellish the scenario so that now you are being chased as well. Two things to fear makes it even more likely you will fall. As the Bene Gesserit say in Dune, "Fear is the mind-killer." It paralyzes us in a fight or flight response. Another more realistic scenario: Writer's block. Writer's block is almost always a product of fear--fear of getting things wrong. This leads to paralysis and potentially depression. I should know; I've been a writer most of my adult life. I think the same dynamic affects us in other areas though. Fear of getting things wrong/looking stupid leads to "life-block." Especially when we are afraid that getting things wrong in this life could condemn us eternally in the next. That said, I do think we need to distinguish between fear and prudence. Of course, prudence would tell you not even to attempt to cross the 1,000-foot high balance beam. (Not sure what we can do about the killer chasing you, but the moment fight or flight kicks in your rational problem-solving skills go out the window.) Prudence is a lot different than the fight or flight response that fear initiates. It's a product of a rational assessment of your circumstances and the potential outcomes of certain courses of action. Finally, I will say there is no fear in love, b/c fear has to do with punishment. I certainly hope that in the case of my own four children, they love me not due to fear or loss or hope of reward but b/c being in relationship with me right hear and now feels the same way it does to me--like sitting next to a warm fire on a cold winter's night. Exactly where I want to be.

  22. Sorry, Ted, if anything I said implied a battle. I was hoping to spark a connection of understanding, and if it didn't work, drop it. Pax Christi!

  23. Heaven and Hell are loaded terms in this discussion. They don't make sense in the way we view them. We are taught that human beings are separated from their bodies upon death, and then they depart either to heaven or hell for judgment. However, what the Bible teaches is far different. The Bible teaches that the metaphysical component of a human being is put in a place of rest or torment until the day of final resurrection, when they are given new bodies. Then they are judged, and awake to a judgment of eternal life, or eternal death. The idea is that, like Eden, that heaven and earth intersect (God's space with our space) for all time, and that those who have eternal life will be immortal. There are two possible views in scripture about what happens to those that are resurrected to a life of eternal death. Eternal conscious torment, i.e., that they will be tormented either by God or themselves as immortal beings for their rejection of Jesus, or that they will be destroyed (annhilationalism) in God's final act of justice for rejecting Jesus, depending on how you interpret scripture. Those are the only possible views. No where does the Bible teach that God will overcome everyone's will and they will be tortured and then somehow choose eternal life. In fact, nowhere do we see that that choice will be ongoing after the resurrection in scripture. And you better believe I live my life thinking about the resurrection. I am getting ready for my immortal life of the future in which God is purifying out my sins and teaching me for my future role in his kingdom of heaven on earth (literally). You cannot separate out our actions in the now from the question of resurrection and the future. That's why Paul so clearly spent so much time talking about the resurrection in the face of present living. If there is a purgatory, then it's right now. Basically, it sounds to me like a lot of people here are uncomfortable with a God that is so perfect and hates sin, that he destroys it. Well, I don't like it that God might destroy me for my sin, either. That doesn't mean it's not true.

  24. Complete, total nonsense. Read N.T. Wright's The Resurrection of the Son of God. If there is no literal resurrection, then Jesus didn't rise from the dead, either. Yet that's historically impossible. You people have one foot in heresy. There is no place in the church for people that deny Jesus's physical resurrection and the final resurrection of the dead. Period.

  25. "There is no place in church..." Do you have the authority to make that decision?

  26. I'm glad this question is addressed and answered. A month ago, a religious studies professor wrote a piece for Religion Dispatches that raised this question of "If there is no hell what's the point of being a Christian?" However, the piece ended without a resolution to this question, and instead ventured to fascinating sociological waters by trying to link the popular belief in Hell to the American desire for competition and conquest. http://www.religiondispatches.org/archive/atheologies/7264/hell_101__a_back_to_school_reflection_on_the_persistence_of_belief_in_eternal_punishment/

  27. My wife (who's "born again," devoted Christian) periodically asks me (a very liberal, Christian-leaning universalist) if I believe in an afterlife. She asks out of pure curiosity. My answer is essentially this: At the time of my death I will proclaim, :"Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." And I'll mean it. And I will gladly accept whatever that means.

    When someone asks if I believe in "Heaven," I tend to answer with "the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand." And I mean that not as an either/or scenario.

    The closest I've ever come to having any real belief and understanding of life after death was out on the ocean on a cruise ship watching waves rise up and then return to the Sea of Beauty. Somehow it made sense, although I have no words to articulate exactly what that is.

  28. I feel the same way I think. I am trying to partake in the Tree of Life today, in this present moment. I hope there is life after death, I hope that is a part of the life that Jesus offered. I don't know though at this time. But I do know that God loves me. That living the Kingdom. Trying to be a peacemaker, someone who shows mercy, a light in a world of so much loneliness and suffering, THAT is something to live for, maybe even die for.

  29. Richard,

    My great issue with the idea of Christian universalism is not based in fear. I DO ask the same question, but I take the approach that comedian Brian Regan espouses about snow cones and playing baseball: "As a kid, if you play half the game, you get a whole snow cone. If you play the whole game, you get a whole snow cone. So, I'd rather play half the game and get a whole snow cone." My natural bent is toward licentiousness. My natural desire is to fulfill my selfish whims, to have my cake and eat it too, as it were. If Christian universalism is true, then in the end, I will get my whole snow cone. So, YOU can serve the poor and I can work towards unmitigated consumerism. YOU can go to church and I can sleep in on Sunday. YOU can clothe the orphan and I can abort them. You can worship God and I can worship Satan and the result will be the same. We will both receive the reward in the end.

    Maybe people cannot see the forest for the trees. Maybe we can't conceive just how horrible "hell as pruning" will be. But, if it is a means to an end, if in the end I get to experience the same joys and relationship with God that you do, then I'd rather fuck my girlfriend, drink myself into a blind stupor, buy everything I want, cheat on my girlfriend with her better looking friend, gossip about my co-workers, masturbate to porn all day long, engorge myself on pop culture and everything that comes with it, and so on and so forth. No matter how grave of a picture you paint of hell, if it is no longer "The End" for the wicked, then the wicked have no impetus to repent. They will receive the same reward.

    So, sell me on this. Because, if you are RIGHT, I'm leaving.

  30. But, to the question of "heaven." When we posit "Would you..." questions, we are now talking about philosophy and not necessarily actuality. You are asking me to consider "what is not" rather than "what is," which is like Alice going down the Rabbit Hole into a world that mirrors are own to a degree, but is off just enough for it to be nonsensical. There is no point in considering an existence in which there is no heaven in order to get us to reframe our motivations for why we do this or that thing. The point of offering reward is to give impetus. The point of offering warnings is to give impetus. It was God who set up a "Reward/Punishment" paradigm. Now, I will admit that he has ultimately couched all of this in RELATIONSHIP, and sometimes we focus more on the treasures and mansions than we do on the Father. This much is true. However, it is an overcompensation to have people imagine a world that "is not" in order to get them to reconsider the world "that is." When this happens, whatever reconsiderations they have correspond to a world that does not, in fact, exist.

  31. With all due respect, Calvin, I found this curious:

    "But, if it is a means to an end, if in the end I get to experience the same joys and relationship with God that you do, then I'd rather fuck my girlfriend, drink myself into a blind stupor, buy everything I want, cheat on my girlfriend with her better looking friend, gossip about my co-workers, masturbate to porn all day long, engorge myself on pop culture and everything that comes with it, and so on and so forth..."

    I don't know you, so maybe you really are that shallow, but somehow I doubt it. Couldn't it be that you're affronted by universalism precisely you're not the kind of person like to do those things?

    Also, you'd be really tired.

    And hasn't salvation by grace through faith already rendered the kind of justice you're talking about moot anyway? You could, even with Hell still on the table, do those things and repent of them and still be saved, assuming the usual evangelical soteriology. And yet you don't do them, at least not most days. So already there's something more going on in your moral formation than pure consequentialism.

  32. Ted,

    Actually, I AM that shallow. At bottom, this is my natural bent and with the exception of drinking myself into a stupor, I don't think I'd mind most of the things I mentioned if I had no reason not to do them. People tell me, "Oh, you wouldn't be really happy," which is no answer at all. Yes. Yes I would be. Doing that which gratifies the flesh makes people happy. Otherwise, people wouldn't sin. People don't sin thinking, "Tonight, I'm going to royally screw my life up by sleeping with some girl who's name I won't remember in the morning." Christians must redefine what "true happiness" is in order to make their point. But, there are people the world over doing whatever they want apart from Christ who are perfectly content and happy with their lives the way they are. Christians come along and try to convince them that they're not really happy and that the way of sin is just too exhausting to keep up.

    So, let's make it less "fantastic." Let's just say I let you all do all the heavy lifting and I just kind of live my life for myself. I don't have to go nuts, I just have to be a generally good person, send money to worthy causes every now and again, and have some basic belief in a higher power (if that). This isn't exhausting at all and most people live this way.

    Sell me on why I ought to be "compelled" by Christ. We both get to spend eternity in heaven, eventually, if universalism is true. Christianity is not a simple religion and it exhausts me far more than hedonism. I already have a 40-hour a week job.

  33. That's changing the subject. The parable is about the scandal of grace.

    Your comment above is essentially, though very colorfully, the complaint of the older brother. Why, father, did I give up all these things [insert your list above], when you end up forgiving this son of yours?

  34. Everything you listed you could do if there was no hell or if hell was not eternal would hurt you or someone else. That's reason enough not to do those things. Salvation is not about getting a snow cone, it's about being transformed into the likeness of Christ and helping to usher in the kingdom of God here on earth. This is the problem when religion is reduced to external punishments and rewards. It becomes completely self-centered, and "salvation" is nothing but a form of self-preservation. Hell or not, Christ doesn't call us to indulge ourselves but to die to ourselves.

  35. I don't NEED hell. I NEED Jesus. Jesus saves me from something and that something is more than a self-centered life. It is an eternity away from him, not the possibility of some "pruning" process, the end of which leads me to a relationship with him anyway.

  36. That's well and good, but doesn't answer "Why?" Why should I not be self-centered? Ultimately, universalism says I'll be transformed into the likeness of Christ, regardless. YOU can usher in his kingdom on earth while I just care about myself and the result will be the same. I am not trying to be results driven. This is not purely about "self-preservation." I'm not talking about Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

    Why? If you go to heaven and I go to heaven, why should I care about anyone other than myself? We might call it sociopathic to not care about others. I call it the logical conclusion to aberrant theology. If there is no everlasting consequence for temporally-committed sin, how is there even everlasting reward for temporally-committed good works? If "all if grace," if the wrath of God does not, in fact, remain on those who do not follow Jesus as John 3:36 witnesses, then I don't have to do ANYTHING and I'll still get what you get...a snow cone for eternity.

  37. But you're not complaining about someone taking away Jesus. You're complaining about someone taking away eternal punishment. You don't "need Hell," perhaps, but you appear to need to believe that it exists.

    At the risk of being uncharitable, you question a soteriology that doesn't offer clear rewards and punishments for being good persons; I question the viability of a church body that can't produce more ethically mature disciples than that. You ask why you should be a certain kind of person if there aren't any eternal consequences; I ask why I would want to a part of a system that can't help me grow beyond that kind of ethics.

  38. The reward/punishment paradigm IS there is generally the beginning point. If 13% of Jesus' words are about hell and judgment, we ought not come with some patronizing nonsense that says his ethical system is somehow immature. If you take away "hell," you take away Jesus, or the need for him. Now, I know you'll go and deny this. You'll find some reason to make Jesus relevant still, you'll find some reason that the Cross invites us into some Candyland relationship with God via a more robust Christology....

    But, without the reward of eternity in heaven or the consequence eternity in hell, you're offering me what Richard Niebuhr said was, "a God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrrations of Christ without a Cross." I find that Christian universalism is an elitist, privileged theology--a theology which those who have been victimized and oppressed in this world cannot fathom. Paul writes, "since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed." (1 Thess. 1:6-9) God is a God of the Oppressed. Universalism would be tantamount to us taking a serial rapist, putting him in jail, "rehabilitating" him, then releasing him and letting him live with one of his rape victims. We act as if judgment "being higher than our judgment" is some radically different thing that will make absolutely NO sense in ANY universe.

    So, if you remove hell and eternal judgment away from God, you lose Jesus, you lose the testimony of Scripture, you lose any hope of the world being set aright. Hell didn't HAVE to exist, but it does. I, for one, am not willing to make Jesus out to be a liar because, the concept of eternal torment away from the Father just seems too...mean and outside of how I conceive the words "good" and "just."

  39. "I know you'll go and deny this. You'll find some reason to make Jesus
    relevant still, you'll find some reason that the Cross invites us into
    some Candyland relationship with God via a more robust Christology...."

    Actually, that's not the sort of thing I would say. But no matter.

  40. Incidentally, your argument that the evisceration of eternal punishment undermines the apocalyptic expectation of the vindication of the martyrs is a a lot better than trying to convince me that you're some cad who would led around by his dick if it weren't for the threat of hell. I'd lead with that next time. ;)

  41. Fair enough. :-) But, it is not too far fetched. I have found that those who do not want to believe will always find a reason not too. Many people are led away by their passions and desires and know they are irreconcilable with the life Christ calls us to. Thus, they scoff and walk away. However, a theology that does not require the command to "Come and die..." when the basis of that faith is to "Come and die..." is attractive to those who are perishing and see the cross as foolishness in its current state. These are the people I deal with on a daily basis as my ministry is not generally geared towards church people.

  42. For many, many people...including me until I met Christ (but it still sometimes rears its ugly head in my flesh)...sex is a functional God. Historically, people have worshipped at the altar of sex for years. Sexual sin is powerful enough to keep people at bay FOREVER because it is a particular sin and the only sin committed against one's own body, which is the temple of the Holy Spirit. It is chipping away at a temple. This is not about hell, but given my experience and the answers I hear and excuses I hear about what "I just can't let go of," what people often can't let go of is in their hand and below the belt.

  43. I would certainly not argue against "come and die" as a part of the call of the Gospel. But I'm not stumping for universalism as such (I'm much worse, apparently, as per some of the other commenters).

    Perhaps the majority need a reward/punishment schema and my anthropology is inadequate -- or I'm just odd. Maybe eternal punishment has what William James called a kind of "cash value": it gets a certain kind of work done. That doesn't necessarily make it true, but that would be difficult to verify either way. I promise that if there is a conscious afterlife, and you come find me, I'll let you say "I told you so."

  44. Hmmm, no replies on this one.
    I've wondered if progressive Christians theology is coffee shop stuff where they just sit around and talk about how THEY'd like to imagine it. As if each were just writing their gospel.
    If these verses are ignored (and trust me, I like ignoring them) then I'd like to know is there a standard red-letter progressive Bible from which progressives say , "You can put doctrine and teachings from here, this stuff is OK."

  45. LOL: Indeed not, Ted !
    Ya know how conservatives have reference Bibles (think Scofield's) that guide them through scripture and show how the Holy Spirit wove it all together to make sense. They have side notes to show fellow-literalists how to make sense of the apparent obvious problems.

    Well, have any progressive done the same: A reference bible saying: this is a metaphor (and means ...), this is just silly human-culturally-limited writing (safe to ignore), this is what Jesus really thought, and more such things.

    No doubt there is variety of opinion between folks (only natural) but they could list some of the divided opinions between progressives too. I'm just curious.

    Thanx for the reply, mate.

  46. Ah, I see what you're asking. I suspect such a thing does not exist because it would too-transparently give away the game we're all playing.

  47. Yes, I thought of the Jesus Seminar.

    Here is a list of what I think are their publications:


    I have the Parallel Gospel 2012 edition.

    A few questions:

    (1) What do you think of their worK?

    (2) Do you count yourself among progressive Christians?

    (3) What percent of progressive Christians do you feel would be comfortable agreeing with your summary that "it would too-transparently give away the game we're all playing."

    Or were you being sarcastic. On my blog today I wrote a little on the game we play and I wrote about how I think "Life is a Game" is not derogatory. Just to put my cards on the table. :-)

    Thanx again for your time

  48. Hmm. I'll play your game (see what I did there?) ;)

    1) I haven't had much interest the JS as a whole, though I think they are too easily dismissed. I do have a soft spot for Crossan and Borg, and I think Wink was part of the Seminar at one point, was he not?

    2) No. I'm hardly a conservative, but I've never quite sussed out what "progressive" means beyond "Christians who like the Huffington Post."

    3) I have no idea. I imagine a goodly number would be affront, which was partially my intention, but I was not entirely sarcastic. Like you, don't necessarily think "game" is derogatory.

  49. Thanx for playing, Ted.
    Getting to know people on blog threads is a challenge -- especial when conversations are terse, vague and aphorismic (is that a word?). But I think many threaders (I made that up just now for people who don't blog but live on threads) like it that way. To that end, once I built "Share Thyself" tables to help (I won't like because I doubt you click). I looked at your Disqus profile -- no blog, right?

  50. More like "no attempt to make my Disqus profile interesting." :)

    I blog here: http://irritablereaching.blogspot.com/

    The word you're looking for is "aphoristic," and it aptly describes your meaning, I think. I don't spend a lot of time on blog threads -- I'm more of a Facebook person (I've seen your name before, so I think we have some mutual friends) -- but Richard's seems to generate some interesting discussion.

    What is a "Share Thyself" table?

  51. Ah, I will follow a while -- added to RSS.

    You can see those tables linked at the bottom of my "About" tab or here:


    Suggestion: make Disqus a little more useful -- share thyself by adding the blog link.

  52. Nicely done. Maybe you will take my advice and build and "About" page using one of my "Share Thyself" tables so that readers don't have to guess where you are coming from as they read posts. Just an idea.

  53. Spot on, Sabio. I call it boutique Christianity. Both the Scriptures and the testimony of church tradition firmly posit that one should fear hell. You can reject inerrancy or tradition, but if you reject both, you've got nothing but your own imagination left... People are following their souls/feelings into a new form of Christianity that has never existed before. For my part, this falsifies Christianity as their concerns are more than legitimate. The more strident simply hunker down and dismiss them as neos, liberals, apostates, etc....

  54. Neither heaven or hell is sufficient to motivate a person to live a Godly life, but neither is personal self motivation. It is only Christ within a person that enables them to live the life of faith and love. Those who have Christ are not so much motivated but rather enabled or empowered to live the life that god desires. In order to have Christ we have to have a desire to live the life of love and faith but also be acutely aware that in ourselves we are unable to live it.

    As to the truth of hell, if we are a Christian, we do to affirm this truth because Jesus did. I wouldn't say that hell is a motivator but rather a revealed truth to human beings that there are after life consequences for actions here on earth.

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