On last month’s TNT I said something that I have heard a lot of feedback on (some positive and some negative ). I thought it would be good to continue the conversation here on the blog.
My assertion was that: If you are a Christian, you have to believe something about hell. It is just not an option to say “I don’t believe in hell”. The word ‘hell’ is in the English version of the Bible and you can’t just say, as a Christian, that you don’t believe it. You can hold that it was a burning garbage dump in a valley outside Jerusalem that Jesus makes a poetic illusion to … but you have to believe something about hell.
I would go on to broaden that assertion. I would say that you must believe in predestination, election, and the Book of Revelation.
All 4 of these are topics that l have personally heard people say “I don’t believe in __”
- You have to believe something about hell.
- You have to believe something about predestination.
- You have to believe something about election.
- You have to believe something about the Book of Revelation.
It is is just not an option to say “I don’t believe in hell”. Jesus did. If you are a Christian, you have to hold some belief about it.
Paul spoke of predestination. Election is a theme in scripture. You can’t just say ‘I don’t believe in Revelation’. You can object to how some people interpret and preach the Book of Revelation … but you can’t ‘not believe’ it.
Why It Matters:
I come from an Evangelical-Charismatic background and am now employed at a Mainline church and attend a Mainline school. I am passionate that thoughtful progressive Christians can not make the same mistake that Liberals made in the past century. By ‘de-mythologizing’ the Bible they undercut the very foundation that the tradition is built on.
I love Biblical Scholarship. I delight in post-modern and progressive theology. I take seriously the post-colonial critique and the perspective of feminists and queer theory. But it does us no good if we know what we don’t believe about something but do not have the ability to present in a constructive way what we do believe about those very subjects.
There is so little value in participating in a community based on a tradition where one does not believe in the very words of that faith’s sacred text.
Why even do it? I think that is why so many ‘nones’ have just opted out. I actually greatly respect those who participate in the emergent conversation and who are valiantly attempting to update their denomination from within. It is far easier to just walk away from the entire project all together … and many have.
So How Do I Do It?
Predestination: Forget about the historical hyper-Calvinist understanding that you ‘don’t believe in”. Romans 8:29 says “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”
Who did God foreknow? Everyone. What are they predestined to? To be conformed to the image of the Son. Does everyone arrive at their destination? No.
Predestination might be, what some Process thinkers would be called, an ‘initial aim’. It is God’s desire for all. God doesn’t always get what God wants ( see 1Timothy 2:4).
Election: Karl Barth said it clearly. God elected Jesus. All humanity is involved in that election. All who are ‘in Christ’ are elect.
The Book of Revelation: You may not like the ‘Left Behind’ / Hal Lidsey / Jack Van Impe interpretation of the Book of Revelation … but you can’t, as a Christian, say that you don’t believe in it. It’s in the Bible. You have to believe something about it.
The Book of Revelation was a political critique of the Roman Empire of the first two centuries written in the genre of the ‘apocalyptic’. It is not predictive of the 21st century. But we don’t want to throw it away! What we need, more than ever, is to imitate it and write an apocalyptic critique of our as-it structures, systems and institutions of injustice and our empire. We need a prophetic imagination.
You can’t say, as a Christian, that you don’t believe in this stuff. You have to believe something about this stuff. My suggestion is that we just believe more informed better stuff about these topics. The simple fact is that we are community of people centered about a sacred text and it is simply not acceptable to say ‘I don’t believe in something’. We are free to not believe in some people’s interpretation – but we have to believe something about it.
Thoughts? Questions? Comments?