(Originally posted here)
by Chad Holtz
While surfing through the deluge of posts and comments surrounding Bell’s approaching apocalyptic book, Love Wins, I started to think about the fears that are present on both sides of the conversation. Those defending the more traditional view of hell do so because they care very much about something they are convinced is true. I do not doubt their sincerity. Nor do I doubt the reality that whenever we shift paradigms with our beliefs, we lose something. It may be things we did not know we had.
I was raised in the church. From the time I could talk I believed in an eternal hell and that it would be full of people. This all changed about 3 years ago for me for a variety of reasons. But for 33 years I knew nothing else.
For the past few years I have given some thought to what I lost by losing hell. No doubt, there have been some major casualties. Here is a brief list of the big ones for me along with a description.
1. I lost the idol of belief.
Most of my Christian life I believed that I was saved because of what I believed. Yes, of course, I knew it was Jesus that made it possible for me to believe what I believed, but at the end of the day it was my good fortune (to be born a pastor’s kid in a predominately Christian culture) and my good sense that assured me a place in heaven versus hell. While I could not and would not have named it as such at the time, I idolized my belief of belief. When I lost hell, I also lost the the notion that I could secure anything about God’s future for myself through right (or wrong!) doctrine.
2. I lost a very powerful and useful motivator: Fear.
This was one of the hardest loses for me. Fear operated not only on others but on myself. No longer could I motivate myself to do good, to pray more, to go to church more, to be more charitable, etc., because a tormented eternity awaited me if I did not. I admit, for a long time that was a compelling motivator. It’s one I use on my kids probably far too often (not hell, although the fear of losing their Wii rights is a form of hell for my boys).
I also lost the ability to use fear as a tool to manipulate others to believe as I did. No longer could I get the satisfaction of seeing a crowded altar full of fearful, repentant sinners because I delivered a sermon that painted a picture of a very hot, miserable eternity if they died tonight without a belief in Jesus. Fear has worked wonders for getting people saved. It worked for me when I was 12 (and 13, and 14, and 15, and 16…). I had to find another motivator.
3. I lost the right to hate my enemy.
Yes, it’s true. Yes, I am well aware that Christians are supposed to love their enemies and pray for them. I’m aware that we are to love others as ourselves. But I have to confess that in my heart of hearts, that place where I worshiped a God whom I knew would send all His enemies to an everlasting hell, I really hated my enemies. Yes, I said with my lips that I “loved the sinner but hated their sin” (forget for the moment that our sinfulness is so ingrained in our person-hood that I, a sinner, am terrible at separating the sinner from the sin) and that I loved them with Christ’s love, but deep down I had a smug satisfaction that one day they would get theirs. This gave me comfort. And I can’t imagine that this deeply ingrained attitude of condescension was not obvious to those I sought to convert.
4. I lost my place in a tribe.
This is probably obvious given the many smear-blogs happening today. John Piper’s flippant, “Farewell, Rob Bell,” says it all. When I lost hell I lost my place in a “holy huddle” where I felt safe, secure and respected because I believed just like everyone else in the huddle. Losing hell made me an outcast to the sort of places I called “church” for 33 years, making me more like a nomad among Christiandom, with no real place to lay my head.
These are some of the things I have lost losing hell. I’m sure there are more. There are also some things I have gained, which perhaps I will write about at another time.
In the meantime, what have you lost when you lost hell? OR, what are you afraid of losing if you did?
by Chad Holtz
Last week I wrote a note titled “What I Lost Losing Hell.” The discussion both there and on my page has been fantastic and I appreciate everyone’s contributions. Keep them coming! In that note I said I’d jot down some thoughts about what I gained by losing hell. Here are those thoughts. What are yours?
1. I gained a more profound faith
As I reflect on the years when I believed in a literal, eternal, tormenting hell I have to confess that I was a pathetic witness. While I claimed to believe in hell and that it would be quite full of people and I would happily make this belief known in my “holy huddle” (church), this belief did not translate to my every day life. For had I truly believed it, and had I truly loved my neighbor, I would have been telling every person I ever passed on the streets that hell was in their eternal future if they did not repent. So I have to conclude that at least one of two things was true about my belief in hell: > I didn’t really believe it and > I didn’t really love my neighbor (let alone my enemy).
As you might imagine, this tied me up in knots with guilt and anxiety. I worried all the time about all the billions who never would hear the name “Jesus” in their lifetime. I worried all the time about my friends and loved ones who believed differently from I because they were not fortunate enough to be born in my family. And I even worried about the people who claimed to be Christians but they didn’t act like it or they didn’t believe quite like I did (for instance, they didn’t believe in a literal, eternal hell). My anxiety over the future state of their souls, while doing nothing to really compel me to warn them incessantly, seemed to serve as a sense of assurance about my own eternal destiny. If I am concerned about you burning for eternity than I must be OK.
What I gained when I lost hell was a profound sense of trust that God, in Christ, has “all things,” including all the people I once worried about. I gained freedom from worry. After all, didn’t Jesus teach us not to worry? (Matt. 6). If I could trust God with my own eternal fate, perhaps I could trust God with the fate of all of Creation. For the first time in my life, I began to experience what I think is real trust. I no longer trusted my faith to set me free but I trusted in Christ and Christ alone to set us all free.
2. I gained a new boldness in evangelism/preaching.
When I lost hell, the Gospel became not just potential Good News for some but radical, scandalous Good News for all of God’s Creation! This gave me a boldness in my preaching and interactions with other people that before I did not have. It is a powerful thing to come to the realization that my arguments about God, my beliefs about God, or my ability to conjure the right amount of fear in the hearer or my well articulated and rehearsed presentation of the “Way of the Master” did not matter one iota. It was all skubalon.
Instead, I could preach grace. I could say to someone along with Saint Paul, “You ARE reconciled to God in Christ, therefore, BE reconciled!” (2 Cor. 5:12-21). Salvation was no longer reduced to fire insurance in the afterlife but became Good News to the oppressed, the broken, the sick, the poor, the sinner and the saint. The Gospel took on a power that I had never known before. No longer did it tell me and others what you could be if X, Y and Z are done but rather, it told us the truth about ourselves – it tells us whose and who we are! Rejection of this truth is not a sentence to hell in the afterlife but a denial of who you already are. In other words, to reject Christ is to live a lie today. Paul said, “Today is the day of your salvation! So….wake up!” I am far more motivated to tell people to wake up to what is already real today than I am of trying to convince them to believe in X or pray this prayer so that they can eat cake after they die.
3. I gained a new found humility
Yes, I am aware of the joke, “I’m the most humble person here.” What I am attempting to say here is that losing hell helped me recognize a profound truth about myself and every human alive: We are contingent beings relying solely on the grace and mercy of God.
Before I lost hell I thought my beliefs or actions somehow secured, for good or ill, my eternal fate. Yes, Jesus did something 2000 years ago that was important, but my belief about that event was even more important. My faith or lack thereof unlocked the doors to either heaven or hell. Because of this bedrock belief, it is easy to see why belief itself became everything (and Jesus became the object of belief to haggle over).
But Paul says something in Romans 11:32 that levels all of us. He makes the outrageous claim that God has imprisoned ALL in disobedience so that God may have mercy on ALL. Not some – ALL. This included even me with my “right” beliefs. I am just as disobedient and in dire need of mercy as the person who never heard of Jesus. Disagreements today became less about a judgment from the Sorting Hat for eternity and more about appreciating the multiple flavors we all bring to God’s table.
That being said, I fully acknowledge that I could be wrong about every thing I believe. We all live into a story, however. My beliefs are not what earn me merit with God but rather enable me to live either well or poorly into the story God is already writing, with or without me. My future, my very breath, is entirely a gift from God.
4. I gained a new motivation: Love.
I was once asked by a friend, “If you take hell out of the picture, why follow Jesus? Why not just live however you want?” I responded with a question of my own: “Do you serve and honor your wife because you fear divorce?”
When I realized that it was not my beliefs about Jesus but Jesus himself who has saved and is saving the world, I began to fall in love with a person and began to release the idol of my ideas. I do not serve and honor Jesus as my Lord because I fear an eternity in hell. I love him because he first loved me. Period. No agenda.
When I loved Jesus for an agenda (getting out of hell) I found that I also loved people with an agenda (getting them out of hell). My love for them was conditional. When they rejected my agenda I rejected them (“Farewell, Rob Bell”).
God loves because this is who God is. God does this perfectly, and perfect love casts out all fear. I’m called by my Lord, whom I love, to be perfect as my Father in heaven is perfect. While I stumble and fall more times than I care to admit, I’m thankful that it is into my Father’s arms I fall and not a fiery pit.