Tuesday, December 16, 2008

LEO talks about Hell

LEO, the alternative news-weekly in Louisville, has an interesting feature where two anonymous guys attend worship at a local church and then write a review of sorts. The two guys have backgrounds that make it a more valuable exercise-- some sympathy and background, but not too much to lose "objectivity" or at least credibility.

Recently, they visited the Episcopalian "Church of the Advent" and the primary topic was HELL.

Let’s talk about hell.

Yeah, so we just lost half our readers. But we didn’t bring it up; the Rev. Timothy Mitchell at Church of the Advent put it in his sermon. Blame him.

No one — except a pastor who wants to scare people onto the membership rolls — enjoys the subject. All of us would rather discuss heaven; God’s love is more appealing than judgment. Some Christians are set on disbelieving hell out of existence.

I think that’s why Father Tim brought it up. He spent a good part of his sermon assuring us God loves everybody, so presumably, we’ll all get a free pass Upstairs. “Jesus always gave life. Is this the same Son of God who told stories of violent Divine retribution?” he asked rhetorically.

But many Christians disagree with his easy dismissal of eternal things. We accept hell as a tragic, but Biblically and philosophically necessary, part of our theology.

If you believe humans are immortal souls with free will, they are able to accept or reject God. Then in addition to heaven, your theology demands some kind of separation from the Big Guy. You don’t have to buy the image of an eternal barbeque pit — I don’t. But even the most loving souls don’t want to share eternity with unrepentant murderers and child molesters.

So reluctantly, I accept the idea of hell. (Let the hate mail begin.) Because of that, I was uncomfortable with how Father Tim treated such a weighty topic: I wanted to see him acknowledge both sides of the Christian view on eternity.

Yet other than that, I can’t fault the worship at Church of the Advent. Both of your Church Hoppers thought this service was one of the best we’ve found.

I’m always moved by rich language in hymns and readings, the pageantry of priest and choir in a colorful robed procession....The sermon came from Matthew 25:14-30, where Jesus told a parable about three servants. Each one was given “talents” (money) to invest while their master was traveling....

Father Tim made it clear that if we follow Jesus, we’re charged with giving our lives away. Though it sounds impossible, Christ promises that we’ll get back even more than we give. Father Tim unflinchingly conveyed that spiritual reality, and challenged his congregation to live it.

I just wish he’d taken Jesus’ words on eternity a little more to heart, too. Sometimes it seems Christians only believe in the afterlife at funerals. Yet if we claim to serve a Guy who rose from the dead, we can’t focus exclusively on his teachings for our earthly existence. We also need to consider heaven … and hell.


At December 17, 2008 at 12:04 AM , Blogger William Lang said...

One specific reason I am an Episcopalian is that I do not believe in Hell. The doctrine of Hell is obsolete and cruel. The Leo writers mention murderers and child molesters, but standard Evangelical teaching implies that most of humanity will go there. You might say that the Bible teaches Hell exists, but as you know, I believe on multiple grounds that the Bible contains mythology and error. Since the doctrine of Hell is incompatible with a loving and just God, it is not tenable.


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