May 1, 2011
Someone recently commented about my blog, saying my opinion of Leviticus as an obsolete law was wrong since, in his words: “The Ten Commandments are absolute according to the author.” Clearly he thought I must repent of the view or suffer eternal torment. It’s a sentiment I’ve heard before and so it didn’t surprise me.
Since then an interesting thing happened. The evangelist, Rob Bell, came out with his book, Love Wins, that proffers a view of Christianity that’s kinder than the version espoused by most religious fundamentalists. He rejects, for example, the possibility of hell and damnation, putting stock in scriptures that speak of a restoration and reconciliation of all things both in heaven and in earth.
His assertion is not without detractors. Albert Mohler, the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary says: “When you adopt universalism and erase the distinction between the church and the world, then you don’t need the church and you don’t need Christ, and you don’t need the cross. This is the tragedy of non-judgmental mainline liberalism, and it’s Rob Bell’s tragedy in this book too.” His point is that without the idea of a heaven and a hell, Christianity is little more than a moral philosophy.
My reaction to that is: So what? If a generalized and corrected belief in that moral philosophy results in a compassionate world uninhibited by irrational fear, so what? Wouldn’t that please God? And the idea isn't without precedence. Prior to the convening of the First Council of Nicea, many Christians didn’t believe in the atonement and Christ’s lineage as the son of God. Elaine Pagels’ histories of the early church summarize a debate that led to the cannonization of scriptures (such as the Gospel of John) that put Jesus at the center of salvation, while eschewing other sacred texts (such as the Gospel of Thomas) that acknowledged no such role.
Bell also has a problem with the notion that people who haven’t professed faith in Jesus are to be damned. He writes:
…for many the essential idea is that the only way to get into heaven is to pray at some point in your life, asking God to forgive you and telling God that you accept Jesus, you believe Jesus died on the cross to pay the price for your sins, and you want to go to heaven when you die. Some call this “accepting Christ,” others call it the “sinner’s prayer,” and still others call it “getting saved,” being “born again,” or being “converted.”
So is it true that the kind of person you are doesn’t ultimately matter, as long as you’ve said or prayed or believed the right things?
Clearly Bell doesn’t think so. How could a loving God damn one of His children for not believing in the right thing?
Posted by Alan Bahr