And now for something completely different, before I go back to the problem of fallible language and our modern pretence of being able to know everything, which is also the basis for a lot of evangelical theology.
Roger Olson, quite interesting bible scholar who (unlike me) proudly wears the label of ‘Arminian’, makes a very interesting remark in a blog post, that is very interesting as a standalone paragraph, and quite unrelated to the book about Emperor Constantine that he’s criticising, and that raises some interesting poinst for me.
To what extent should we let historical figures off the hook just because of the cultural context and the times in which they lived—especially when they claimed to be Christians and had their Bibles and read them? Should we excuse Zwingli for having the Zurich city council torture Hubmaier? By all accounts Zwingli stood in the torture chamber and demanded that Hubmaier, who had come to Zurich at Zwingli’s invitation for a debate assuming protection, recant his Anabaptist views. And, of course, Zwingli fully supported the drowning of Anabaptist men and women. Shall we say “Well, those were harsh times?” I don’t think so. Either Zwingli is in hell or he had to go through a purgatory-like process before entering heaven. If you don’t believe in anything like purgatory (even C. S. Lewis’ highly Protestantized version), I don’t see how you can avoid putting Zwingli in hell.
The first one is Zwingli himself, one of the big names among the protestant reformers who has been almost a footnote in my church history lessons. I’ve always felt that I disliked his very low view on sacraments, and wondered if tendencies towards a very low and reduced view of the sacrament of bread and wine among evangelicals and pentecostal can be traced back to him, but I’ve never known much about the guy… The story of the tortured Anabaptists is completely new to me, and quite disgusting, and it reminds me of the story of Calvin and Servetus. Which is also a horrible story, as there are too much of them in the history of Christianity, while Christ taught us other things… The question of whether those people are in hell is not one I have to answer, but just letting such people go directly to heaven, people who did great deeds of evil while being a Christian without repenting for them, would be a big problem.
Heaven (whatever that is, I would think the resurrection on the New Earth is the most biblical view) would cease to be heaven in any meaningful with such guests as residents… So the question becomes not what we would do in our theology with those historical figures, but how would an unrepentant killer of heretics ever be part of something that’s even remotely heaven?
So that brings us to Olson’s note about purgatory. He’s been writing about the topic more (see here for example if you want to know more about what he calls ‘C.S. Lewis’ highly protestantized version’) and he clarifies in the comments with “My idea of purgatory is that, if it exists, it would be educative and corrective, not punitive.” I don’t know much about the afterlife, but I do know that most people who die, even if they have not been killing fellow believers or other stuff like that, are not perfect, and not fit for heaven. so I suppose there needs to be some ‘correction’ (which might be over time or in a moment) but the correction is needed in any way. Even if Christians might be forgiven, but they are still tainted by sin and they do horrible things. We need the good thing that has begun in us to be perfected, to just be able to be with God forever…
(Which is why I don’t like theologies that seem to take sin as merely a legal problem, or an offence to God, and not something needs to be destroyed in our lives and all of Creation, not just forgiven afterwards. Sin is a real destructive problem,and just being forgiven without being changed does not make sense. Just being declared ‘innocent’ when we are changed in nothing but our legal status (which is only changed because God does not see us when he looks at us but Jesus, as some would say) sin has not been defeated, and our redemption is a lie unless the only problem is that God needs to put sinners in hell, making God more of a problem than sin…)
I know this is more of an unstructured rant, so if you have more input, please help me…