I can’t believe that this exchange of views—”Different takes: should we abandon idea of hell?“—showed up on the CNN “Belief” blog. There’s no substance or novelty here. Well, I guess one doesn’t expect so much of that on religion pages, but most of this exchange is is simply hellfire-and-brimstone preaching by a pastor.
First there’s a short take by Frank Schaeffer, a “New York Times bestselling author” and a member of the Orthodox Church. He pushes the view that Christianity is merciful and nonretributive:
What most people don’t know is that there’s another thread running through both Christianity and Islam that is far more merciful than the fundamentalists’ take on salvation, judgment and damnation.
. . . The other equally ancient view, going right back into the New Testament era, is of an all-forgiving God who in the person of Jesus Christ ended the era of scapegoat sacrifice, retribution and punishment forever.
As Jesus said on the cross: “Forgive them for they know not what they do.”
That redemptive view holds that far from God being a retributive God seeking justice, God is a merciful father who loves all his children equally. This is the less-known view today because fundamentalists – through televangelists and others – have been so loud and dominant in North American culture.
. . . We need “hell” like a hole in the head. It’s time for the alternative of empathetic merciful religion to be understood.
Yes, you can interpret the Bible either way so long as you ignore the huge swaths of Biblical text that threaten people with hell. Yes, I do understand the “empathic alternative,” but has Schaeffer considered whether it’s the right one? Apparently not.
But there’s something far worse, for Schaeffer is countered by Mark Driscoll, described as “founding pastor of Mars Hill Church” (a Christian megachurch) in Seattle, Washington. This is the stuff that shouldn’t be appearing on CNN pages, for it’s just a sermon, one that could have been preached by Jonathan Edwards in 18th century New England. A taste of Driscoll:
As a pastor, my job is to tell the truth. Your job is to make a decision.
Well, he certainly pulls no punches, and implicitly brands Schaeffer a liar. I’m not sure that I don’t prefer Driscoll’s honesty to Schaeffer’s mealymouthed metaphorizing. But Driscoll then presents his “truth”:
What does Jesus say about hell?
Jesus was emphatically clear on the subject of hell. He alone has risen from death and knows what awaits us on the other side of this life. A day of judgment is coming when all of us — even you — will rise from our graves and stand before him for eternal sentencing to either worshiping in his kingdom or suffering in his hell.
The Bible could not be clearer: “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”
These are not just obscure Bible verses. In fact, Jesus talks about hell more than anyone else in Scripture. Amazingly, 13% of his sayings are about hell and judgment, and more than half of his parables relate to the eternal judgment of sinners.
Keep in mind that Jesus’ words come in the context of the rest of Scripture, which says that God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Furthermore, he “is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”
Given that, it’s amazing that his next line is this:
God is far more loving, kind and patient with his enemies than we are with our enemies.
Really? I wouldn’t wish my worst enemy an eternity of immolation in molten sulfur. (Later in the piece, Driscoll assures us that the Bible teaches that life in Hell is indeed eternal and that there’s no second chance on Judgment Day.)
Driscoll goes on with his sermon, showing us the loophole:
Am I going to hell?
The good news is that the closing verses of the Bible say, “Come!” Everyone is invited to receive the free gift of God’s saving grace in Jesus. Jesus is God become a man to reconcile mankind to God.
He lived the sinless life we have not lived, died a substitutionary death on the cross for our sins. He endured our wrath, rose to conquer our enemies of sin and death, and ascended to heaven where he is ruling as Lord over all today. He did this all in love.
The stark reality is this: either Jesus suffered for your sins to rescue you from hell, or you will suffer for your sins in hell. These are the only two options and you have an eternal decision to make.
My hope and prayer is that you would become a Christian.
Why is this stuff is appearing on CNN? Is this news at all, or even an airing of beliefs that has something novel in it, or reaches a rapprochement? Nope, it’s just pure proselytizing, and won’t enlighten anyone much less make them change their minds.
It amazes me that in the 21st century, Driscoll’s odious and repellent beliefs find their way onto the pages of a supposedly reputable news site.