An anonymous person commented here on the Grenz yesterday in response to the two blog entries I've posted about Rob Bell's new book Love Wins:
Winning! (some thoughts on Rob Bell, not Charlie Sheen)
Hell's Bells: some preliminary thoughts about Love Wins
I think I have been fairly candid about the fact that I am in the process of clarifying and solidifying my own beliefs about the idea of eternal, conscious torment in a physical locale called "Hell" and the implications of such an idea on our understanding of God. But, this anonymous person has asked several questions of me. I'm going to assume, maybe against my better judgment, that these questions were asked in good faith and not as accusations. So, I've decided to answer them. I'm all for this conversation.
You say you teach grace but I remember when you taught Truth & Grace. What happen to truth?
I believe in truth. I believe truth is found in Jesus. I believe the story of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection is the truest thing we know. I believe Jesus reveals truth to us, and by that I mean that Jesus shows us the reality of life in God. Most people live a sham, far from what God intended, far from the best version of themselves, far from reality, far from truth. The truth we are all desperately in need of is found in him. The Bible reveals and records for us the true story of Jesus. I love and cherish it. And each Sunday at Vintage Fellowship, I attempt to show how the truth of the story of Jesus intersects with our own stories.
How can you not be sure if there is a Hell?
Hell is no joke to me. It is not something I take lightly. A teaching about hell that includes eternal, conscious torment of human beings ought to get our attention. Sit with that for a moment. Eternal. Conscious. Torment.
Who relishes this idea? Sadly, I think some Christians in this Rob Bell debate come off like they do. Well, I don't. And I don't think God does either.
I believe in a God who grace is surprising and overwhelming and irresistible. And while I can't (and don't) say with any certainty, I am holding out hope that God's grace is greater than eternal, conscious torment, that God is moved with pity toward ... not just me and my friends ... but toward all of us. I am not a universalist, but I hope God is.
Is that such a dangerous thing to hope for?
Have you forgotten the words in the Bible or do you not believe them anymore?
I absolutely believe the words in the Bible. It's the translations and interpretations of people I question. When Jesus used the word "hell," what was he referring to? What would his hearers have thought of and understood? What are the Greek words for "eternal" and "forever," and are we eisegeting our western mindset into them when we read them? What is the book of Revelation really all about? How was it received and understood by the original readers?
These are the hermeneutical questions I'm asking of the Bible. I don't mind if someone comes to a different conclusion than I do. I think the Christian tradition is big enough and generous enough to accommodate differences.
You always told us to be very careful, to steer clear of new age religion, now you not only teach it to your church, you teach it to your kids.
I am not sure what is meant by "new age religion," but I can very clearly what I teach my church and my kids. I teach them to trust Jesus. I teach them that on their own, they are only going to screw their lives up. That Jesus is their rescue, their model, their only hope and help. I teach them be kind, to be gentle, to be sold-out for love. I teach them not to expect everyone to agree with them all the time and to, in fact, celebrate and learn from different perspectives. I teach them to think for themselves and to search the wonderful story of the Bible for the answers they seek. I teach them, I hope, grace and truth.
What happened to you Robb?
I'd bet that this question is meant to be pejorative. But it's not a bad question. It's true, I am not who I used to be. Maybe I ought to write a book about how I have been transformed from a fundamentalist pastor into an emergent church planter ...