A new metaphor for thinking about heaven and hell


I’ve been reading a very stimulating and provocative book by Pauline Biblical scholar Michael Gorman called Inhabiting the Cruciform God. Gorman argues that the central point Paul has to make is that Jesus’ cross reveals the nature of God and that the way we are justified and reconciled to God is by joining Him in His cruciform existence. Gorman claims that to Paul, God is not the triumphalist emperor/military hero that popular American evangelicalism wants Him to be, but rather someone whose nature is to continually empty Himself for the sake of others, the most perfect illustration being the cross itself. This got me thinking about heaven and hell in a very different way that is partly inspired by C.S. Lewis’s Great Divorce but in one way, the opposite of Lewis’s metaphor. Continue reading

Is the gospel the invitation to a party or a get out of hell card?

inviting to the feastFor the first 1500 years of Christianity, the high point of every worship gathering was Eucharist. The sermon served to prepare the hearts of the congregation to receive the body and blood of Christ. In today’s Protestantism, the sermon has replaced Eucharist as the focal point of our worship. And the individualistic altar call has replaced the communal table as the congregation’s standard response to the proclaimed word. I wonder if this change is the reason that the Protestant gospel became more about hell than the heavenly banquet that Eucharist proclaims. Continue reading

Sarah Moon and unmerciful #universalism

A week ago, ex-evangelical blogger Sarah Moon wrote a post titled: “When my abuser is welcome at the table, I am not,” taking aim at the presumptuousness with which some progressive Christians champion a table where everyone is welcome. A friend had told Moon that she should be grateful Jesus died for the man who raped her and she should accept him as her fellow forgiven sinner. Though Moon wasn’t necessarily writing about life after death, the pain she shares illustrates the problem with universalism. Wouldn’t God be lacking in mercy for the victims of abuse to force them to spend eternity in communion with their abusers? Continue reading

Pinocchio and eternal life (my second Dominican sermon of 2013)

A few weeks ago, Bruxy Cavey at the Meeting House preached a sermon using Pinocchio as a metaphor for our existence as humans who are justified in Christ but have not yet entered into the full humanity we will fully receive when we are glorified. I was listening to it on the podcast as I worked in the Dominican Republic. I ended up using Pinocchio a little differently in my sermon that I preached in Santiago this past Sunday but the basic topic was the same: the new humanity we receive from Jesus Christ that Paul writes about in Ephesians 4:17-24. So here’s a basic paraphrase. Continue reading

Holistic sexuality, distorting pieties, and the pursuit of heaven

There’s been an outburst this past week from evangelical women bloggers against the idolatry of virginity. Three prominent posts have come from Sarah Bessey, Rachel Held Evans, and Emily Maynard. It’s been amazing to read in the comments about the toxic things that youth pastors and parents have said to conservative evangelical girls about sex (“No man will ever want you now,” etc). I grew up in a more moderate evangelical environment where I never encountered anything like purity balls or abstinence pledges. So I wanted to respond to Emily Maynard’s challenge to articulate a more holistic account of sexuality. Because I do believe that sex is a powerful force whose abuse can wreak havoc on our ability to worship God. And I also recognize that there are some very unhealthy distortions that have been at play in the evangelical consciousness. And I think that ultimately it all boils down to what we think heaven means. I’ll explain. Continue reading

Who does God weed out?

Jesus’ parable of the weeds in Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 is a tough passage to preach on unless you’re a Calvinist because basically it says that some people will always be weeds who have been planted by the devil that God leaves alone until the end of time when He throws them all into hell.  Now a lot of preachers cheat when they get stuck with this passage by trying to make the weeds into bad “attitudes” or “feelings” in a community rather than actual people, but that doesn’t square with the explanation of the parable that Jesus shares in verses 36-43. I decided not to cheat, but to really wrestle with this text when I had to preach on it a week ago. And my wrestling yielded some fruit. I wanted to share some Greek words and phrases in Jesus’ explanation of the parable that offer a helpful explanation of who God weeds out of His kingdom and why. Continue reading

God’s wrath as a cosmic spiritual immune system

My reformed brother Derek Rishmawy and I have been having a stimulating discussion about the nature of God’s wrath. It’s a huge stumbling block for many Christians, and it doesn’t help that pastors are often very clumsy and barrel-chested in how they talk about it. So I want to offer the following experimental analogy with the hopes that it will help some people (like me) who hate the fact that the Bible includes the phrase οργή θεού (God’s wrath) in too many places for us to embrace a theology that doesn’t account for it. What if we think of God’s wrath as the spiritual immune system of the universe? Every time there is a violation of shalom (peace), torah (law/harmonic order), or mishpat (justice), God’s wrath is provoked like the body’s immune system in response to an infection.

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2011: the Year of the Hell Debate

2011 was a turbulent year for American evangelical Christian identity. A major lightning rod within our identity crisis was the publication of Rob Bell’s book Love Wins. Under the surface of the fierce debate about heaven and hell that flared up with his book’s publication have been conflicting views about the implications of believing that the Christian gospel is important and beautiful enough to share with everyone, which is one presumption upon which all evangelicals agree. I’m hopeful that the end result of our year of debating hell will be greater insights in how to proclaim the gospel in a way that reaches people in today’s world (assuming we agree that’s important). Continue reading

Five Disappointments with Francis Chan’s Erasing Hell

I want so badly to transcend the tribalism of the Rob Bell vs. Team Hell battle, but I have to say that I’m frustrated Francis Chan only gave himself three months to write Erasing Hell, his response book to Love Wins. I guess I should start by saying nice things about his book. I did appreciate the way that Chan was trying to be confessional and vulnerable and sympathetic (22, 163, other places). I also saw that he was trying hard to find ways that his presuppositions had changed over the course of his three-month writing blitz (e.g. maybe annhilationism isn’t heresy, 86). He also acknowledges very importantly (121-122) the way that it’s abominable to proof-text Matthew 25 for “eternal punishment” but then dismiss what Jesus says we have to do to avoid hell. Continue reading

Learning to Love God’s Judgment

[This is a repost of an article I wrote for Ministry Matters on the two sides of God’s judgment and the way that Christ’s atonement converts us into loving God’s judgment.]

Many have misinterpreted this year’s battle between Rob Bell and the neo-Reformed bloggers who have dogged him for the claims that Bell makes in his book Love Wins. It’s actually not a debate about whether or not hell exists; there’s a deeper question whose answer shapes how we understand the nature of hell and what we are saved from by the cross: Why does God judge us? Continue reading