Hell Hath No Fury

Let me begin my reaffirming what everyone probably already knows; I am no theologian. I think that is exactly why it is important for there to be room on this blog (and in our church) for novices like myself. You and I can’t afford to be afraid of dumb questions and wrong answers. Granted, there will be the inevitable “bless your heart” moments from those who know an M. Div. isn’t a new version of Microsoft Windows. As we hear frequently at The Crossing, theology matters. That means it should matter to you and I.

Now, with our theological beanies in place, we can attempt to process a story like the recent dismissal of a North Carolina methodist preacher for questioning the existence of hell. It is common for the typical layperson to acknowledge some degree of inadequacy in entering an argument such as this one. There is a tendency to immediately acknowledge we don’t have a dog in this fight. There are those seminary trained who should tackle this one right? Well…right, at least, sort of.

It is unlikely the local paper is going to contact you for your two cents, but it is still extremely important for you to protect your soul from heresy. So, how exactly do we go about discerning truth from some distortion thereof? For example (since we are talking about eternal fire) what if the air conditioner in my car stops working? I’m going to have to find a mechanic I trust. At some point, if he ends up telling me I need a new compressor, I’m going to have to believe him and pony up. Similarly, I think it is imperative you belong to a community of faith with leadership you trust. When faced with doubt or confusion over difficult theological issues, it is important to begin with this basic trust as a foundation.

I know a few of you may have trouble with the fact that I didn’t start with God’s word as our foundation. I would argue that a correct interpretation of scripture requires more than our own understanding. I think we need the discernment of both a heavenly and an earthly shepherd. The former through the holy spirit and the latter through the teaching of our church leadership. We will ultimately filter questions and doubts through our community of faith and the lens with which that community collectively interprets scripture. And, more importantly, the manner in which that community views the inerrancy of God’s word. That is exactly why trust is imperative, and trust doesn’t happen without an investment of time. Now we are back to the fact that theology matters. It is worth your time.

Maybe it will help if I walk through my reaction and my response to the story mentioned above as an example. My first response was to recognize that this is a story about just one pastor…who cares? But, as I read more about the impetus behind this pastors rejection of the idea of hell, I realized he was simply reflecting on ideas generated in response to a new book by Rob Bell. Bell is the young evangelical pastor of Mars Hill, a large church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Bell’s book hasn’t even been released and there is already an endless supply of critiques and impressions online. However, I noticed quickly a few red flags concerning Bell’s theology. The origin of those flags is the application to this blog.

I have invested time in knowing the pastors of my church. I know my pastors are not perfect, but I also know they have no hidden agenda. Their motivation is to know God as He has revealed himself in scripture and to lead others to know Him as well. My pastors have challenged me to read good books by good authors. They recommend authors and books they have read and feel reflect the truth of scripture. One of those authors is John Piper. Do they agree with everything John Piper says? Of course not. However, they respect his theology and feel it aligns with the story of the bible and the truth of the gospel. They trust him. So, when I read in the article this response to Bell’s book from Piper; “Farewell, Rob Bell.” I knew Bell had an uphill battle in convincing me of his interpretation of the reality of hell.

Ultimately my faith lies in the inerrancy of God’s word, but I must admit my tendency, as well as others, to err in the interpretation of God’s word. As I repeat the process above, seeking truth according to the light of the gospel through the interpretation of those I trust, hopefully I am reflecting the kind of heart described in Ephesians 4:14 “Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth.”

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