worship. Little did they know that in the coming years they would face persecution and martyrdom under the atheist, socialist U.S.S.R. This is an often repeated story with a pertinent moral. The church became entirely disconnected from the social world surrounding it. It managed to miss the blossoming upheaval because of a debate over apparel. The Russian Church proved completely irrelevant. When we look at our surrounding culture, the potential for mass movements causing serious political unrest seems entirely possible if not likely.
Right now, church leaders are engaged in a raging debate. Not over what to wear or anything as nonessential as pastoral aesthetics, instead, many influential leaders in Christian churches around the nation are fighting over the afterlife. Rob Bell pulled the trigger to the debate with his recent book Love Wins. The response to this little book exploded on the internet, in pulpits, and in coffee shop conversations across the country. Many consider this debate to be of utmost importance; however, to any observant person, the discussion concerning heaven and hell has become an argument about vestments.
I know what you are thinking, “But ben adam, haven’t you been writing about this whole debate for the past couple of days, and doesn’t that make you just as irrelevant as Mark Driscoll, John Piper, and all those other megachurch pastors?” The short answer is yes it does, but I believe in Jesus. I do not believe Jesus came simply to get me into heaven. I believe Jesus had very real and very revolutionary words to say to his particular social context. Additionally, I believe Jesus has something very critical to say to our current social, political, and economic situation. Let me repeat, Jesus and the G-d of the world is relevant now. Relevance is not determined by afterlife consequences, either. If we become consumed with talking about heaven and how we get there, we become hopeful hedonists who seek only the shortest road to get us into paradise. What we should be concerning ourselves with is what Jesus concerned himself with: economic justice, love of
G-d and neighbor, relief for the oppressed, challenging the powerful, feeding the masses, simple living, etc. Meanwhile, pastors like Mark Driscoll skip the challenge of the Gospel in favor of creating dogmatic in-groups and out-groups based on simple doctrinal beliefs about who gets eternal bliss and who suffers eternal damnation.
The argument from those decrying Rob Bell’s book demands that people believe in Jesus so they can earn eternal salvation from hell. Basically, everyone should believe in Jesus in order to get something in return. Is this faith or a transaction? We demean the Gospel of Jesus Christ when we incentivize belief with reward. We should follow G-d because G-d is G-d, and to stand on the side of G-d is to stand on the side of what is right. It is to be fully human.
Heaven and hell have become the American church’s priestly vestments.
This cannot be made more clear than by Mark Driscoll’s sermon on Luke 16.19-31 in which he quite literally claimed that proper belief in what kind of afterlife awaits all humanity determines whether a person is a Christian or not! I thought what a person believed about the truth of Jesus determined who was a disciple and who was not, and frankly, I believe Jesus is a G-d of justice, peace, righteousness, and love. The notion that people enter eternal bliss or eternal torture based on creedal statements is not just, peaceful, righteous, nor loving. The simple truth of this matter causes people to reject G-d everywhere. They cannot comprehend how being banished to hell for eternity because of a lack of belief in a 1st century Palestinian preacher is morally acceptable. If this is what G-d does, then they want nothing to do with G-d. I do not blame them.
Why then does anyone listen to the likes of Mark Driscoll and his message of death and pain? Fear. Popular preachers could argue endlessly about the “truth” of a G-d who damns people to hell, but ultimately, the threat of hell instills fear into the populace. With this threat tightly in place, people have no faith, only fear.
To truly put faith in G-d, one must follow without guarantee of reward and without fear of punishment. True faith risks all and demands all.
There is only one way to do that. To risk all privilege, comfort, and reward, one must stand against the powerful who create the temptation of satiation and be amongst the oppressed on the side of the slaughtered Lamb.
I have entered this debate in order to call it to a close. We must bring this debate to its funeral. After it dies, perhaps the church will resurrect and proclaim a G-d of life, justice, peace, and love. Let us stop debating about what the church ought to wear, and let us stand up to the world who finds it necessary to bailout the richest people in the world
while the poorest drown in a flood of starvation. Let us proclaim the incendiary claims of Jesus. We must look the system of oppression in the eye, and we must say, “You have created a hell, and your gates defending this hell will not overcome love, justice, or G-d!” It may very well get us crucified, but to do otherwise only makes us the gatekeepers of hell. It makes us faithless and irrelevant.