Monday, August 15, 2011

Who Wins? Two Books about Heaven and Hell -- Sightings


When Rob Bell's  Love Win's came out it caused quite a stir.  I've read it, reviewed it, enjoyed it.  It's not the most profound theological treatise ever written, but it lays out good questions that Christians and non-Christians are asking.  Of course it pushed buttons.  Remember John Piper bidding Rob farewell (from evangelicalism)?  Then Christianity Today Senior Managing Editor Mark Galli, entered the fray with a book length response entitled God Wins.  I've not read the book, but as Martin Marty tells us in today's Sightings post, Mark lays out traditional evangelical understandings of judgment and hell -- if you don't come to Jesus you're going to be toast (rather literally).  Marty notes that Galli doesn't ultimately answer the question of God's fairness and justice, and that this question still needs to be answered in light of the earthly realities where "choice" really isn't in the realm of possibility.  I invite you to consider Dr. Marty's responses to the two books on heaven and hell.

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Sightings  8/15/2011


Who Wins? Two Books about Heaven and Hell
-- Martin E. Marty

“Let’s you and him fight!” The old comic-book trope is good advice for bystanders as Mark Galli’s God Wins counters Rob Bell and his book Love Wins. The two are respected evangelical leaders, an editor and a pastor, who attract headlines and readerships as they debate “Heaven, Hell” and the “Good News.” Their subject is a meaningful alternative to the otherwise preoccupying evangelicals’ debates over homosexuality and abortion. “The Good News” is a debate over whether “Love Wins” or “God Wins,” and those who hear the biblical word that “God is Love” may have trouble telling the players without a program. Both sides agree that this is all about “the ultimate fate of human beings,” a classic concern of all who believe that there is an afterlife.           

What follows is not a taunt but a challenge: let us have a Volume Two, especially from Galli. He offers soft but evangelically-orthodox answers to most questions which Bell posed last year in his book. But he slights the biggest, hardest, most troubling questions about the love and justice of God. He is anthropocentric, of course, but his “anthro-” who asks questions and ponders fate tends to be someone familiar with the biblical questions with which serious apologists for centuries have dealt as they set out “to justify the ways of God to man” (and woman).
           
Such are perhaps the hardest questions which concern “me” and “my personal fate,” or “people who need to get motivated to evangelize others,” who worry about predestination and God’s foreknowledge and the hardness of heart which the Bible says God causes. Galli is humble about what he knows and does not know, but always punts when it gets hard and interesting by saying that God is a loving judge who is smarter than we are and who told us enough to get us personally through our questioning. But here’s the challenge: watch the evening news, as we do, showing Somali children starving, parched, dropping in the desert, in the arms of a dying mother. By the thousands upon thousands. Or walk among the poor of India, by the millions. There is no chance. Repeat: no chance, that they or their parents can ever hear the Christian “good news,” to reject or accept it. Galli makes much of choice. Time is short: there is no way the best-intended gospellers can mobilize to reach them. No way. And staying home with books keeps gospel-recruiters from the desert sands or Indian villages.
           
Only a couple of dozen lines in Galli’s book even bring up the question, which he then drops with some verbal sleight of hand. I’m almost embarrassed bringing this up, so ancient and worn it has become, but it’s here. About the “fairness and justice of God,” “let us not too sweepingly dismiss such questions.” We Christians, our club, should ask them, since this is “one of the ways” we get a deeper faith and “think more deeply about God” in our sanctuaries and libraries. Meanwhile, hour by hour, millions by millions go to hell. Galli is sure about hell. Page 95: In the New Testament hell is “mostly pictured as fire,” “darkness, destruction, exclusion from the presence of the Lord.” “The point is less to describe hell in detail than to suggest it is a place of torment.” In this case, for the innocent. Still: “those in hell experience torment for eternity,” say most evangelicals, and Galli does not dispute them.
           
I’m a reporter, columnist, bystander, and don’t claim to have credible answers to the questions Bell and Galli pose and to which they would respond. But we need a Volume Two from Galli on these really tough questions. Otherwise, “Bell Wins.”

References



Martin E. Marty's biography, publications, and contact information can be found at www.memarty.com.

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In this summer’s Religion and Culture Web Forum: What does religious education look like in the globalized realities of the 21st century? This was the question put to a distinguished panel at the recent meeting (May 22-28, 2011) of the International Association of Black Religions and Spiritualities (IABRS), an organization that “represents the religions and spiritualities of darker skinned peoples globally.” This month, we feature the response of Dr. James Massey, the male Dalit (India) delegate to the IABRS. Dr. Massey argues that peace among the world’s religions will require finding not only a “common ethic” (per Hans Kung), but an “appreciation of differences.” To both these ends, Dr. Massey calls for “re-looking at the religious traditions.”

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Sightings comes from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

7 comments:

David said...

Hell? No, say it ain't so. (okay, I'm baiting Gary a bit, but Brian too). Who are we to decide if God even cares about worldly justice in the end. I think the issue may be that WE need to evolve as a people and each of us needs to rediscover and value the concepts.

Better than justice- total love after the fact. I suspect this is the eternal state some call heaven. Why would we need any other reality? It's the best working hypothesis I can imagine to live out our lives. No doubt, hell might be IN heaven. Knowing that we didn't act to make the physical world- which is finite- a better memory in the forever afterlife. This means we need to act and help those in distress and to help prevent it in the future.

It used to drive me crazy when the nun's insisted that it was our responsibility to spread God's word (love) the world over...that it was our responsibility. I understand it better today.

Who will be most joyous in the end? The unenlightened victims, or the Christians who didn't really care to put the word into action?

Brian said...

Hi David!

For starters, I know I'm often critical of Dr. Marty, but this piece struck me as quite good. He stuck with the points the authors were making instead of mocking the authors themselves.

In my heart I'm a universalist. That was certainly my position when I entered, and left, seminary.

At this current moment in time, I'm finding it more meaningful and faithful to assume there is no consciousness after death (as we understand death). This is not the same as "rejecting" the afterlife.

When I'm with a family who just lost a loved one in the ER, I'm 100% sincere when I agree with them that he/she is in heaven. Context is critical. There is a mile of difference between abstracting about eternal life and practicing it. What I write on here is for the purpose of engaging in communal discussion. What I experience in my inner-most thoughts as well as with grieving family members of patients lost, is not abstract at all. It is holy and I tend to keep it close to my heart, but largely unspoken.

Ultimately, I'm trusting in LOVE. I'm following Jesus as I best know how.... although with varying degrees of success. I love Jesus Christ and I love those most vulnerable and outcast. In this way I'm still 7 years old. Only my thoughts are more adult.

When I die, I commit my spirit to God in the name of Jesus. In other words, no difference than right now. God will be and do whatever God will be and do.

David said...

Yep. I know that we're the universe itself aware of itself in little bits. I'm not sure if future, or otherworldly aware fractions of the universe are messing with us, or created us.

It doesn't matter. I claim to some close to me that I'm a practicing Christian, but atheist so to present a pure heart.

Ironic, I know.

Until we understand what time and matter really are, it's all simple speculation and building on the past. They had this love thing figured out pretty well. I decided not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, or let the lessons be perverted more than I can prevent.

David said...

Anyway, from one bit to another. I wish you all a healthy share of peace and love. Enough to sustain chain-reactions of the same to many others. This seems to have great potential, even mathematically.

Disclaimer: I have ingested no intoxicating agents (so far) today.

David said...

All the bits - mine = God to me.

Let me share a song that beautifully puts everything in perspective.

Michigan raises some nice talent.

http://www.myspace.com/markduval/music/songs/who-am-i-74336899

David said...

Friends, I have a request. Mark Duval's "Real Men Dig Their Own Graves" which is witty and spot-on, but sort of mean had 941 plays, while "Who Am I" had zero before I Googled it (I own all his CDs).

Let's show Mark that "Love Wins" and get that "Who Am I" count up.

Oh yeah, I cut the grass and earned one Jim Beam + water and a twist of lemon peel over ice. yum.

John said...

I don't know if I am a universalist, but I don't think it really mattes, because whatever God wills, will be.

In the meantime I pray that universalism accurately describes the truth of the human divine relationship; I love my neighbor enough to hope that we share a blessed eternity together in God's presence, I hope that God's power equals God's capacity for compassion and mercy; and I trust that God's love is sufficient for the salvation of creation. If I am wrong, I am guilty only of trusting God too much, If I am right, my confidence will only serve to give hope to others.