Tag Archives: evangelism

Keep me ignorant so I’ll stay out of hell?


The following picture was making its rounds on facebook today, and I do sort of think that it shows that some forms of Christian inclusivism are in serious need of reconsidering their very basic framework:

Let me first clarify that I’m not at all sure about the historicity of this quote, and I don’t have a source except for this FB picture… An American Orthodox FB friend pointed out that the Inuit were evangelised by the orthodox, and not by the catholic or protestants, which makes the story more doubtful, since this way of thought appears to not at all not be compatible with Orthodoxy…

The problem in the quote is clear: If you believe in Christ you will be saved from hell, but what about those who never heard that good news? Some would say that they all go to hell and stand accused nonetheless, while others trust in Gods mercy to be able to save more, which gives us certain forms of universalism (all go to heaven because Christ will be able to save all) or inclusivism (not all non-Christians will be unsaved) of different varieties.

The inclusivism that’s propagated in the picture assumes that those who are ignorant of God and the gospel cannot be held responsible, and can therefore not be sent to hell (unless they are really evil probably) but from the moment they have heard the gospel they will have to respond by converting, or otherwise they will be sent to hell… (insert a whole talk about ‘justice’ and ‘wrath’ here) The biggest problem is this: Maybe with such a theology it would be better to not evangelise at all, since then less people won’t go to hell…

Uhhh???

I would think that there are some problems with the basic framework. The biggest one is the view of salvation as being first and foremost being saved from God putting you in hell, which can be avoided by believing that Jesus saved you from this fate on the Cross. I would think that the mentality of ‘being saved from hell by a conscious decision to believe stuff’ which does not apply when the person is ‘ignorant’ and has not heard that information is quite one sided, but much more merciful than ‘all will go to hell for not accepting information they could never have’…

Where the approach fails I think, is that there’s much more to say about salvation that getting a ‘get out of hell free’ card… Salvation is getting reconciled to God, and also our neighbor (and the rest of creation btw!) and the word is also used throughout the bible in a lot of contextual situations just for ‘getting out of trouble’. This means that we are saved from a way that leads to death, (the wages of sin are death, as Paul says in Romans. This does not have to mean at all that God puts sinners in hell, but it literally means that sin leads away from life into death!) and disconnect from God, and indeed this way easily leads to hell, not because God sends us there, but because that’s where it goes naturally.

Another problem here is the purely legal framing of sin and salvation that some Western traditions use. Surely the legal metaphors are useful, but they are not the ultimate description. The bible and the Christian tradition have used a lot more metaphors, which are all windows on the Truth, but none will ever completely frame it… That being said, I do think that we miss a lot, too much even, if we think that the biggest problem is not an actual saving from death, evil, sin and destruction, but a change in legal status that enables God to not put us in hell but in heaven…

Being cut off from the Source of Life, which is what being unreconciled to God means, would be hell or even total annihilation if god would gives us what we want when we don’t want to leave that road. On the other hand, being in the undiluted presence of God as an unreconciled creature would most probably have a similar outcome, experiencing Gods holiness while being deeply infected by sin can also mean our hell, or annihilation…

(To me both of these approaches make much more sense than the aforementioned over-legal framework some of my fellow protestants employ, which just cheapens sin into the breaking of arbitrary rules instead of something that is in itself capable of harming and destroying us. They are also in line with for example the views of C.S. Lewis for example…)

If salvation is being ontologically reconciled to God (and our fellow human and all of Creation) the above kind of reasoning makes not much sense… Inclusivism is not really a problem though, like C.S. Lewis says, we know that only Jesus saves, but do people have to know His name to be saved by Him? Those who follow ‘the light they’ve been given’ and try to live out what they know about living in harmony with God are likely to be able to, at the final judgment, see and say ‘this is Who I’ve known and try to follow all my life’… Those who followed evil all the way, and are formed by it, will most likely just not have anything to do with God, and they will probably not be able to stand the presence of God and His holiness at all…

So, what are your opinions?

Shalom

Bram

It may or may not be a religion, depending on your definition (pt I)


If you recognize the quote in the title you are a die-hard fan of my music. (If you don’t, it’s the opening lines from ‘NT Wright is a sound theologian‘ on my almost finished album ‘cyberluddism‘ that can still be listened and downloaded on bandcamp)

Now to the point, There is a a video that has been going round on facebook lately that is so viral that it seems everyone remotely Christian (from die-hard evangelicals to vaguely Jesus-inspired hippies) has been sharing it. It actually reminded me that the word ‘viral’ is derived from ‘virus’, like in a computer virus or a flu virus… It’s called “Why I hate religion, but love Jesus” by some Jeff Bethke guy who does some spoken word poetry with music behind it. And by now I’ve had it with everyone and even their goldfish sharing the bleeping video on facebook. Please, I’ve seen it pass like 20 times today… Have mercy…

Now there’s a lot of things that I like in the video, Jeff Bethke does makes some good points. (read the words of the poem here) And the production quality is great and the speaker is very articulate. That’s not my issue. But there are some things I find quite shallow, not to say cliché, and the ‘a relationship, not a religion’ rhetoric is getting a bit irritating sometimes….

Some interesting remarks about the problems with this video are written by the American Jesus, Sarah Moon, Elisabeth Esther, Jake Belder and Patrol Mag and by this girl on youtube. I’m not going to repeat everything those people say, so they might be interesting to read too…

So what’s my problem with this video and the ideas behind it? Actually there are several and maybe they indicate my theological disagreement with some articulations of popular evangelical theology. The first disagreement is a question of semantics. The definition of religion used is completely shallow, it seems like that word is used to describe all that those people don’t like. Which is kinda stupid, since everybody knows that Christianity IS a religion for most people.

Now I do know where the ‘it’s not a religion’ thing comes from… The simplest version I’ve heard is that religion in man’s way to get to God (or to get salvation), something which will never work, but that Christianity is God coming to man and we just need to accept that to be saved. That’s more or less the core of charismatic and post-evangelical idea behind ‘I am not religious’, like I’ve heard it for years and years…

But there is more to the word religion. Religion is something that innate in humans the way God created them, and the solution to wrong religion is not to abolish all religion, but to find good religion. Religion is something broad and is very hard to pin down, and the word has too much behind it to dismiss it all with an evangelical cliché… I find the seven dimensions of religion by Ninian Smart very interesting. (thanks to Matt Stone @glocal christianity)

Ninian Smart suggested that, whatever else a religion may be, it usually contains certain recognizable elements:

Ritual: Forms and orders of ceremonies (often regarded as revealed).

Narrative and Mythic: stories (often regarded as revealed) that work on several levels. Sometimes narratives fit together into a fairly complete and systematic interpretation of the universe and human’s place in it.

Experiential and emotional: dread, guilt, awe, mystery, devotion, liberation, ecstasy, inner peace, bliss.

Social and Institutional: belief system is shared and attitudes practiced by a group. Often rules for identifying community membership and participation.

Ethical and legal: Rules about human behaviour (often regarded as revealed).

Doctrinal and philosophical: systematic formulation of religious teachings in an intellectually coherent form.

Material: ordinary objects or places that symbolize or manifest the sacred or supernatural.

I think most of these are in one form or another present in almost every form of Christianity, (yes, the sacraments of bread and wine and baptism are clearly rituals!) except maybe the material aspect in protestantism. There might be discussion about this… And I do know there could be much more definitions of religion. But just re-defining religion so you can denounce it, like the evangelical tradition seems to do, is a bit weird. But they’re in good company. Bonhoeffer already did it. And people like Greg Boyd (a thinker I generally like and respect, like I do with Bonhoeffer) are doing the same.

But I would say let’s quit it please. It creates a sense of superiority in some christians who feel high above those poor ‘religious folks’. And it complicated conversation with a lot of people who just see religion as a word for believing in God or gods. Or have academic definitions like Ninian Smart.

Oh, and if we’re biblical christians, maybe we should look to the bible, where the book of James defines for us what good religion is supposed to be:

James 1:27 Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their misfortune and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

Or is that a liberal social gospel and being saved by works? Nah, it’s the bible!

Shalom

Bram

(stay tuned for pt II about the gospel like it’s presented in the video!)