Tuesday, April 26, 2005

The Last Word and the Word After That: The Critiques Begin

I was on another list which had a very intelligent conversation on the doctrine of hell. I just got McLaren's book and wanted to give a few impressions from his introduction where he lays out very honestly and forthrightly the purpose of his new book "The Last Word and the Word After That." Brian says he wants to stir up conversation on this often neglected preached topic these days and I suspect shed more light than heat. I will say that probably as long as someone does not hold to the traditional view (and better yet, sees it as mean-spirited, unloving, and just biblical wrong) then one will probably be quite pleased with the discussion Brian wants to have.

There are several unique paradoxes in what Brian does from (1) Hell has disappeared and no one has noticed while at the same time describing the traditional view from many a modern perspective not so much as a wrong belief in the doctrine of hell but as a wrong understanding or view of God who under the traditional view is seen as cruel, capricious, merciliess, and a tyrannical deity; and (2) Brian wants to warn of the destructive nature of the traditional view of Hell while not giving his own view out in the process.

Brian is a provocative writer and his honesty and humor shines forth in this thought-provoking and possibly disturbing book. Brian at times has brilliant statements like "We don't fully love God because we are not fully confident that God is fully good." Brian uses the Balaam's ass story as a parable of himself. He suggests the poor beast took some beatings but eventually the message got heard. He humorously says, "If I can have similar results, any beatings I get will be well worth it." Of course parables have a way of cutting many ways and some may also wonder if the traditional view doesn't get the hell beat out of it as well?

I will say I also suspect biblical scholars who major on not charicaturizing or setting up straw men but dealing with biblical and logical weaknesses will not be happy with McLaren's book. Brian can not swallow or appreciate any kind of "image of angry God" so he also appears not to be too concerned what Christians throughout the history of the church has believed or preached on this topic he says is neglected today. From McLaren's perspective, sermons like Jonathan Edwards "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" makes God appear like a schizoid in regards to mercy and justice and sociopathetic and disfuctional as an eternal torturer.

I for one find it unfortunate that Brian can not show his more generous orthodoxy towards the earlier Christians whose views of hell were certainly more dark, scarier, and troubling than many modern day versions that have reduced hell to and idea rather than a place and punishment as something almost "fun" outside the domain of God's freedom strifling and boring borderland of heaven. The purpose of Edward's sermons was to warn people of God's wrath to come and his was a compassionate urge for people to run into the arms of a redeeming Savior and gospel world filled with grace. I know Brian is motivated by trying not to alienate modern and postmodern people from the gospel and he sees the doctrine of hell as something of a stumbling block and a barrier for contemporary people to come to faith in Christ. I will say if we put the truth question aside for the moment (and there are many other features of the Bible we would need to reinvent that don't go well with modern sensibilities
either), Edwards in his day found preacihng on the terrors to come and God's judgement was something that did effectively work in bringing many people to Christ. But pragmaticism should not be the issue and it does seem to this Christian observer that if the whole truth be told, hell has been drained and lost most of its fury today as well as any worthwhile fear-inspiring qualities. Straight talk and fearful consequences just don't play well in todays postmodern world. So I agree with McLaren that a conversation needs to start about this often silent topic but I want to dig past simply dealing with weaknesses and abuses of this politically incorrect doctrine today. However people define or understand the doctrine of hell, I would hope it will challenge and inspire Christians to seriously engage in evangelism and missions rather than continue in the downward spiral of abandoning one's duty to warn the world, and especially their fellow Christians, of the perils of sin.

Let the discussions begin - Chris C.

'mapper Chris Criminger posts some thoughts on Brian McLaren's newest book.


Anonymous said...

"I know Brian is motivated by trying not to alienate modern and postmodern people from the gospel and he sees the doctrine of hell as something of a stumbling block and a barrier for contemporary people to come to faith in Christ…Straight talk and fearful consequences just don't play well in today’s postmodern world."

WOW! This is just plain sad. Brian might want to take heed in the warning that few should be teachers for the calling is high.

He might be a good storyteller, but as an apologist...he just threw the baby and the bathwater out.

Who is Brian to say the teachings of Jesus aren't good enough for today's culture? What a reactionist!

Straight talk, if it is with gentleness in the fear of God is exactly what this culture needs!

Brian's core motivation (trying not to alienate modern and postmodern people from the gospel and he sees the doctrine of hell as something of a stumbling block), if the above is a reflection of his thinking, will do much more harm than any good at all.

Can we get back to proclaiming the Word of God without our arrogant editing as WE see fit? It is not up to man to edit God's Word, but to communicate it in the right spirit, with humility and the passion of Christ, who wept over the lost. Where are those leaders?

Anonymous said...

...and to add, "...in spite of the terrifying nature of the doctrine, and in spite of the fact that people find the idea of everlasting torment revolting, the strongest support of the doctrine comes from the lips of Jesus Christ. Think of it: the most terrifying imagery and detailed descriptions of hell are found in the discourses of the Redeemer! Jesus continually warned men and women of the danger of going to hell. Jesus Christ, who foretold that He would come again to judge the entire human race, spoke more about hell and its terrors than the prophets and apostles combined. To ignore and disregard the clear teaching of Jesus is to deny Christ."


Bob Robinson said...

I really liked Chris' gentle approach to critiquing Brian's latest.
A model that I hope many will learn to follow (including myself and "anonymous" above).