J. Michael Patton at reclaimingthemind.org recently posted a five part series on defining emerging/emergent. The series was extremely well done and most of the comments helpful as well. One of the parts used the issue of Hell to show how different people who are emerging (by self definition) can be one from another. I was surprised that the comments did not ignore Patton’s point and dive head first into a debate about hell more than they did. I am certain Patton was relieved to see they did not.
The traditional Evangelical circles I have been a part of believe hell is a literal, everlasting place of torment for all who do not believe before they die in Christ’s redemptive work on the cross and resurrection from the dead. As vehemently as some defend the doctrine of hell one could almost assume they think a belief in hell is also necessary for “salvation” even though such a position is not defend-able by scripture.
As I have read various blogs and comments from sites sympathetic to emerging/emergent thinking I have noticed how many adversaries to such thought often make arguments against the emerging/emergent individual based more on their own conclusions then the positions held by the emerger. Such a tendency seems especially true with regard to the topic of hell. For example, an individual who takes the position that the Bible does not support a literal, everlasting place of torment commonly called hell is immediately accused of not believing in heaven, of thinking there is no difference between Christianity and any other religion (all roads lead to God), and/or of saying the cross was unnecessary. None of these assumptions/accusations are necessarilytrue. In fact, nearly everyone I have heard argue against a literal hell believes absolutely in the Kingdom of Heaven, Christ being the only means to the Father, and the power of the cross (actually Christ’s death and resurrection as payment for humanity’s sin). I realize some who might call themselves emerging/emergent do not hold these views but I suspect they would not then call themselves Christians (though I am sure I will be corrected if I am wrong).
While I am certain many sites exist which discuss the topic of hell one of the ones I have found to be most helpful is The Adventures of Clothman. (If you hit “clothfiles” scroll down to 456-459 or hit “other writings” and scroll down to “Where in the Bible is hell”). I do not know if the responses from his readers are still available. He wrote his blogs over a year ago so they may not be. However, his “clothlinks” tab contains a couple options for further study but since I have not completely checked these sources out for myself I cannot overtly recommend them.
Why even mention Clothman? Well, he is an example of a man who has passionately pursued Jesus most of his adult life yet has been called a heretic (and worse) by people who have known him for years. Christians wrote ugly, damning letters to the editor of his local paper as well as his website out of concernfor his salvation. Many in the emerging/emergent movement face similar treatment from their fellow Christians. Like Clothman, most Emergers I have read have patiently responded or politely discontinued the conversation, though a few have lashed out in frustration and apologized in a general way later.
I am saddened and believe the Spirit must be grieved when brothers and sisters in Christ chose not to simply agree to disagree when they reach a place of impasse. So, please be warned all who may not agree with the opinions presented on this blog or with those who choose to comment 1). rudeness will not be tolerated, and 2). individuals may label themselves, if they so desire, you however are not to label others.
In the next few days I will share what I have discovered as I have sought to find hell in the Bible.