“The Gates of Hell Will Not Overcome” Part 3: A Funeral for Heaven and Hell

On the eve of the Bolshevik Revolution, the Russian Orthodox Church held a meeting to discuss and argue over the proper, faithful types of vestments priests should wear during

All that fancy crap failed to have anything to do with the crisis in Russia in 1917. Our churches with their fancy screens and giant buildings have done likewise.

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

Irrelevant.

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

Jesus says hell will be overcome in Matthew 16.18, but I guess verses that imply hell will last forever are more important if you're trying to keep people in your church.

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.

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About ben adam

The world is going to hell in a handbasket, and we might miss Armageddon because we're too busy watching MTV and CNN. Please, read a book, throw a ball, bake some bread, and for goodness sake, turn the TV off.
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4 Responses to “The Gates of Hell Will Not Overcome” Part 3: A Funeral for Heaven and Hell

  1. Ron Krumpos says:

    Which Afterlife?

    In his new book “Love Wins” Rob Bell seems to say that loving and compassionate people, regardless of their faith, will not be condemned to eternal hell just because they do not accept Jesus Christ as their Savior.

    Concepts of an afterlife vary between religions and among divisions of each faith. Here are three quotes from “the greatest achievement in life,” my ebook on comparative mysticism:

    (46) Few people have been so good that they have earned eternal paradise; fewer want to go to a place where they must receive punishments for their sins. Those who do believe in resurrection of their body hope that it will be not be in its final form. Few people really want to continue to be born again and live more human lives; fewer want to be reborn in a non-human form. If you are not quite certain you want to seek divine union, consider the alternatives.

    (59) Mysticism is the great quest for the ultimate ground of existence, the absolute nature of being itself. True mystics transcend apparent manifestations of the theatrical production called “this life.” Theirs is not simply a search for meaning, but discovery of what is, i.e. the Real underlying the seeming realities. Their objective is not heaven, gardens, paradise, or other celestial places. It is not being where the divine lives, but to be what the divine essence is here and now.

    (80) [referring to many non-mystics] Depending on their religious convictions, or personal beliefs, they may be born again to seek elusive perfection, go to a purgatory to work out their sins or, perhaps, pass on into oblivion. Lives are different; why not afterlives? Beliefs might become true.

    Rob Bell asks us to reexamine the Christian Gospel. People of all faiths should look beyond the letter of their sacred scriptures to their spiritual message. As one of my mentors wrote “In God we all meet.”

    • ben adam says:

      Ron, I want to thank you for reading. I don’t know how you found this little post, but I appreciate that you took the time to read and respond.

      Let me put some of my cards on the table. I am deeply suspicious of religious pluralism. It seems to me to be a construct and a privilege available to the elite. Contrarily, the oppressed require a G-d deeply concerned with justice. Justice causes the end of human hierarchies, and ultimately, this means the powerful are wrong. The god of the powerful is a false god and not to be followed or believed. I say this because I do not affirm the religious/secular divide. I believe the polytheist empires of the world worship violence, the state, wealth, comfort, sex, and full stomachs as gods. Historically and presently these empires spread injustice far and wide. As a result, the idea that we must accept and affirm all manners of “religion” as right leads to injustice since it embraces the false gods of disparity. Instead, I believe in one G-d who, through love, will ensure justice for the whole world. This justice will come when every knee bends to Jesus even if it takes an eternity to get everyone to do so.

      What we have in Jesus is a blessing, a gift. Jesus shows us how to institute justice in the face of an unjust empire. It’s not through violent revolution or polemical separatism. Justice comes through challenging the power structures of the world head on fearlessly and peaceably. Moreover, the resurrection of Jesus instituted Jesus as the ruler of the whole world. Since I believe in the resurrection, I also believe that the way of Jesus is the way to deal with the empires of injustice not necessarily the way to “go to heaven”.

      Finally, I do not affirm your idea that there could be individualized afterlives. It sounds like the greatest hope of the American dream in which everyone own their own little piece of paradise without the love and support of community. Furthermore, it isolates rather than reconciles. Any afterlife that pushes me further from my neighbors sounds more like hell than heaven.

      Thanks for your thoughts.

      Sincerely,
      ben adam

  2. Ron Krumpos says:

    Ben, My initial comment was primarily about alternate views of an afterlife. Rob Bell has never claimed to be a mystic, but is open to contemplative prayer and meditation. While not a Universalist, he does respect people of other religions.

    Even within Christianity there are differing views of afterlife between Protestants, Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Mormons, etc. In any discussion between people, there will be varying personal opinions and interpretations of scriptures. Most mystics, of any faith, would agree with Jesus: “The Kingdom of Heaven is within.” If you want to find Hell just read, watch or listen to the daily news or study the unkind history of humankind.

    • ben adam says:

      Yes, quite true. Hell most certainly is a daily reality! I understood what you initial quote was, but it was filled with pluralist thought. I simply wanted to say that I’m not a pluralist although I may be a universalist on a good day. You are right to say there are varying views within Christianity about the afterlife. Some actually believe what Jesus said and think our bodies will rise; others believe what Plato said and think our souls will live eternally. I think that G-d has a plan for the afterlife, and it is essentially an eternity of reconciling people one to another and each to G-d. Of course, doing the work of reconciliation is really, really hard! But I also think arguing over it is a waste of our time. Being faithful to Jesus does not demand a proper dogma of the afterlife. Being faithful to Jesus requires living in a radically loving and radically subversive fashion.

      When Jesus said, “The Kingdom of G-d is within you” the translation is tricky, and I prefer the more communitarian, “The Kingdom of G-d is among you.” Primarily because the word “kingdom” in the Greek basileia means a real place and a present reality. It did not have the “spiritual” overtones that have arisen out of centuries of interpretation. They knew another basileia quite well, and that was Rome! It would make no sense to say, “the kingdom of Rome is within you.” One would say, “The kingdom of Rome is among you” or perhaps, “You make up the kingdom.” Furthermore, that statement comes from Luke. In the Lukan witness of Luke-Acts, the disciples of Jesus enact the Kingdom of G-d through communitarian sharing of possessions, mutual aid, and witness to Jesus, the king. While I agree that mystics would affirm the later interpretations of that statement, that is the de-politicized version of it, exegetically, I think many people would be threatened by it.

      Once again, thank you for your response! 🙂

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