While writing the title, I got the mental image of my mother passing out and my grandmother picking up the rotary phone to start calling people on the prayer chain.

Whoops.

No, I’m not coming out of the gay closet.  I guess you could say I’m coming out of what some people (not me) would call the Theologically Liberal-Heretical-Non-Evangelical-Anti-Scripture closet.

And I just had that mental image again.

Sorry, Mom.

So let me get this over with…I, Joshua Burkett, being of sound mind and prayerful and scripturally studied conviction, DO NOT believe that people will spend an eternity in the conscious torment known as hell.

* Cue the angry pitchfork bearing mob chanting “Burn the heretic!” *

Now, let me tell you my story before you start thinking that I’ve just made this decision based on the whole recent Rob Bell thing.  My journey to this belief started when I was about 10 years old.  Roll film!

I grew up in your typical Evangelical/Pentecostal church where the belief in an eternal hell was as common and factual as the sky being blue.  I also grew up thinking that God could revoke your salvation at any time, even if you accidentally passed gas in church.

And that happened…probably more than once.

So God’s salvation, to me, wasn’t based on his grace.  It was based on luck and timing.  I could be a good little boy and if I just so happened to sin at the same time Jesus came back, I was in trouble.  Luckily, I was taught that if you missed the rapture, you still had a second chance.  But that came at a price.  My Mom and Dad never sinned so if I was to miss the rapture, I would have been alone.  Living for Jesus during that time could save you from hell but it meant constantly running from people who wanted to behead you for being a Christian.  So I would have been a ten-year old with no family, no means in which to take care of myself, and, oh yeah, the world would want me dead.  But even with that, even a lot of Christians would be deceived into worshipping the “Antichrist” and if they did, they’d go to hell.  What if I would be one of the people who were deceived?

So because of all this, I was a really, really nervous kid.

At the age of ten, I started constantly whispering under my breath, “Jesus, I’m sorry, forgive my sins” throughout the entire day.  It was this mantra, said over-and-over again, that was my ticket to escaping hell.  And anytime I did something not 100 percent perfect, I’d have to say that mantra.  Once I remember stepping on a rug and making it crooked.  I said the mantra.  Hey, better to be safe than sorry, right?

I wish I was making this up.  It gets worse.

I then rationalized that I could also sin in my head.  So any thought that wasn’t completely perfect was potentially sin.  I remember once being at a local video rental store and seeing the cover of a horror movie called “Motel Hell”.   The cover was a quasi-disturbing picture typical to the B rated 80s horror genre.  But for this ten-year old, the very view of it was a sin.  I quickly said the mantra but for some reason, the image of Motel Hell was stuck in my brain.  And every time I thought about it, I was sinning.

Do you know how hard it is to not think about something, especially when eternal torment is on the line?

I remember trying so hard not to think about that stupid movie cover, which made me think about it, which made me sin; which made me in danger of splitting hell wide open.  At one point, I was balling my eyes out and was so stressed, that the only thing that it could be defined as was a panic attack.

Age 10 .  The summer before fifth grade.  My own personal religion was a child abuser.

This kind of behavior went off and on for a few years.  I would wake up frightened by train whistles because I thought they were “Gabriel’s trumpet”.  I would often sneak into my parent’s room to make sure they were still there.  I often had dreams about Jesus coming back and me being left behind.  I remember once my older brother was preaching Sunday night service and had someone blow a trumpet in the background as an illustration.  Almost wet my pants.

When I look back at this crazy, erratic behavior, the only word I can think of is “normal”.  When eternal life and happiness  or eternal fire and torment is contingent upon, at most, 90 years of how you behave, it almost makes sense to be that paranoid.  Living any other way is too risky when eternity is the stake you’re playing for.

Think about it this way:  If your soul only had a shelf life of a billion years, (which is still only a vapor of time in comparison to eternity) 90 years is exactly .0000009% of a billion.  That’s a really small number.  If the time I spend in the .0000009% of existence determines complete joy and bliss or eternal fire in the remaining 99.9999991%, it would be foolish NOT to be a little neurotic.  I’m really surprised that we don’t see a lot more people taking Matthew 5:29 literally.

So let’s all chant the mantra together.  Because the father up above is looking down in love.

And wrath.  Mostly wrath.

By the grace of God, I grew out of that mindset and life became what it should have been for that time: all about girls and strange body hair and crazy emotions and boy/man insecurities.  I had nearly forgotten about hell because I don’t think one’s God-given logical mind can keep up such an absurd notion for too long without going literally crazy.  And life was good…

…until my Uncle Rob died.

My Uncle Rob spent years as a faithful pastor.  He was a writer, singer, songwriter, poet, worshipper; he was a fantastic father, friend, Uncle and true servant of Jesus Christ. He had a heart the size of watermelon and everyone that knew him couldn’t help but to love him, because that’s exactly what he was doing to them.

And then Uncle Rob came out of the closet, the homosexual kind.

It’s incredible how the respect a man can build in his lifetime can crumble like house of cards when just one aspect of his life changes.  Uncle Rob stopped being viewed as all the virtuous descriptions above and people started treating him as worldly, sinful, and dirty.  By no means did he do everything perfect.  His lifestyle started turning to the wild and unwholesome.  But it’s hard to judge a man when he loses a lifetime battle only to have everyone he cared about treat him differently.  And when well-intentioned Christians throw God into this mix of excommunication, people have to go somewhere to feel human again.

His Christian friends and family genuinely cared about his salvation and concern became dread when he died of a tragic mix up in medication.  Even at his funeral, the question of his eternal fate heavily lingered in the air with foreboding.   Was Rob in hell?  It couldn’t be. Did he come back to Jesus before he died?  Did all those faithful years of service count for something?

I never once worried about the fate of Uncle Rob’s soul.  I never equated the struggles at the end of his life with his salvation.  Uncle Rob went straight into the arms of Jesus where the love he so needed was granted in tsunamis of overabundance.  How do I know this?  Because Uncle Rob still loved God with all of his heart, soul and mind.

I know that fact as well as I know my own name.

But his death made me realize something.  It’s easy for people to believe in hell when they’ve had no one close to them die that wasn’t a Christian.  Even the people who thought Uncle Rob’s salvation was revoked just refused to accept that he was experiencing eternal torment.  People stop believing in hell, at least for a little while, when someone they love dies.  The mind was not designed to believe in such a thing.

This event was the seed that got planted in the garden of my thoughts.  Could an eternal hell really exist?  But good Christians did not ask these types of questions unless they wanted to chant the mantra.  These kinds of questions were a sign of bad faith.  These kinds of questions would land you in the very place you are questioning.

I was a freshman in Bible College when this all happened.  Although the issue of hell was beginning to crawl to the forefront of my mind, I never brought it up with anyone.  No one else thought the same way.  Hell was part of the package deal of Christianity.  But a year later, as luck (or divine providence) would have it, I took place in a brief conversation about hell with a classmate. I don’t remember its specific details, but the one thing I remember him saying rocked me. He casually said, “With hell, the punishment doesn’t seem to fit the crime”.

Whoa.

I was incredulous.  Really?  You’re allowed to believe that way?  You won’t get kicked out of Bible College?

There were others.  They were just like me.  They wanted to throw up in their mouths when they thought about eternal torment.  But that still didn’t mean one should question it.  It was in the Bible, right?  Or was it?  Looking through my Bible, there seemed to be a lot of talk about hell and weeping and gnashing and a lake of fire to boot.  So I guess it was in the Bible.  I didn’t have to like it, but I guess I had to agree with it.

I then I discovered that there were a lot of great Christian thinkers who argued that eternal torment wasn’t in the Bible; people who knew the Bible really well and were passionate about their life in Christ.

Whoa again.

Why didn’t I hear this growing up?  I didn’t hear many alternative views on scripture.  Was this that thing called heresy?  I didn’t know much about heresy either.  Calvinism was heresy.  Didn’t really know why.  Guess someone told me that once.  But what was this?  I always thought that you can believe everything that’s in the Bible (I still believe that unequivocally, by the way).  People actually reasoned that eternal conscious torment was not in the Bible.  And it made sense.

But I still wasn’t sure.  It was an important topic and I’m not the type to just believe something just because it makes me feel good…except the belief that one day Jesus will give me a pet lion that flies and speaks.  I’m holding on to that one.

So I spent a couple of years praying and reading and thinking and questioning and annoying the other part of me that wished I’d just shut up and play video games.  And I ultimately came to the firm belief that the concept of a hell where people cook forever and ever is completely unbiblical.

And silly.

But I stayed in the closet.

This belief was the kind of thing that made Christians look at you like you’re crazy.  This was the kind of thing that invoked heated debates and needless name calling.  These kinds of beliefs caused you to reconsider a lot of what you thought about Christianity. So I stayed in the closet.  It wasn’t that hard.

People didn’t like to talk about hell anyway…

…except for Kirk Cameron, who at one point made life really uncomfortable.

After three disaffected years at Bible College, I took a position as a youth pastor.  I was being phased in to leading the youth while the old youth pastor was smoothly being phased out so he could do another ministry in the church.  For a summer we ran the youth group together.  I came on the job at the time he was laying the groundwork for the kids to learn the “Way of the Master” style of evangelizing.  And my new stance on hell was not conducive to this.

The Way of the Master is this, for lack of a better term, tactic that’s produced by Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron (yes, the guy from “Growing Pains”).  In a nutshell, it’s a method of witnessing that involves going up to random strangers and asking them if they are a good person.  Most people say yes.  Then you ask them things like if they’ve ever told a lie before, stolen before; basically ever sinned before.  Again, most people say yes.  Then you basically tell them they’re going to hell unless they repent and follow Jesus.

It was about as successful as using only happy thoughts for birth control.

Everything within me screamed at the thought of evangelizing this way.  It was invasive.  It forced people to make a life (and beyond) decision that was based on fear and not love.  It was something that Jesus never did (funny that it was called “Way of the Master”).  And it was all based on something I didn’t believe in.  I mean, I am all for Jesus’ command to spread the gospel everywhere, but I missed the part in the Bible where telling people who God loves them and they’re going to cook for eternity in the same breath was the way to do it.

We took the kids to the mall to do this.  I should have said no.  I should have said it was against my religion; that it was against THEIR religion.  I should have said that regardless of one’s view of hell, that this was a bad idea.  And then he would have asked me what I had meant about “view on hell”.  And I would have had to come out of the closet.

So I stayed in the closet.

I took a group of teenagers into a mall to assault people by telling them they were going to hell.  I hated it.  I felt convicted.  All of my logic pounded on the door of my brain hard enough to be felt in my heart that this was doing more harm than good.  Rarely does anyone truly get converted this way.  Jesus never said “Come follow me…or else”.

But I needed this gig.  So I peddled fear of something that was about as real to me as Santa Claus.  And I’m not proud of it.

It’s been years since that incident and I’ve been able to stay in the closet with relative ease. It’s not hard to dodge conversations about hell.  You can’t dodge topics about meaningless pop-culture or politics, but discourse about the ultimate destination of the unsaved – that’s an easy one.  Everything was going well.  I was respected amongst my church, my Christian friends and my family.  And then it all came crashing down.

Rob Bell writes a book.

Rob Bell’s new book, “Love Wins” is a semi-theological, incredibly poetical conversation about the extreme torrent that is God’s love.  Rob Bell talks about a lot things in the book; the mission of the church, who all will be saved, how heaven and earth will be one, why we need to take care of the hell on earth now.  He injects some theology that doesn’t totally mesh with your typical evangelical church, but ultimately, the book was primarily an incredibly beautiful portrayal of the irrepressible love of God.  Even if someone didn’t agree with the theology, they could still enjoy the words that at times seemed to sing about God’s love.

But a lot of people didn’t see it that way.

The book was largely viewed as a textbook on doctrine and one of the biggest (and misguided) things that people extrapolated from it was that Rob Bell doesn’t believe in hell.  Magazines, blogs, web articles and social media exploded with judgments on Rob Bell’s beliefs (or lack thereof) before the book was even out.  All of a sudden, everybody who was anybody had an opinion and an invested claim on the theological landscape.  Churches, denominations, pastors and their flocks chose sides and the battle began with the poor hipster’s words smack in the middle of the crossfire.  And topics like hell were being talked about again.  No longer could I dodge the issue.

Poo on you, Rob Bell – you and your beautiful book.

So this is me, coming out and saying that I don’t believe that people will be eternally tormented in hell.  While I adhere to this belief with utter joy, I proclaim it with somewhat of a heavy heart.  The very few times I have admitted this in the past, it was met with labels like “liberal”, and statements like “You’re following man’s intellect instead of God’s ideals”.  I fear that this public declaration will change some of the variables in my ministry and how I can react with Christian colleagues.  Perhaps my blogging will now be met with ad hominem judgment.  Maybe I’ll stop getting requests to lead worship services and speak at youth groups.  If I’m off on this piece of theology, what other things do I adhere to that could potentially deceive impressionable teenagers and disaffected bass players?  I don’t say this to be a martyr. I hope this doesn’t happen!  I don’t do well with loneliness.

At this point I would like to make myself clear that even though I don’t believe in eternal hell, my passion for spreading the gospel has not waned.  In fact, it has increased.  Now that hell is out of the way, I am free to share Christ’s love the way he intended for it to be shared.  Not scaring the proverbial hell out of people and focusing on emulating Jesus’ methods is much more compelling to non-believers.

So if I don’t believe in eternal torment, then what do I believe in?  I’ll admit that while I’m solid in believing that eternal torment is unbiblical, I don’t have all the answers.  I lean towards the belief that hell equals destruction.  There seems to be some good biblical grounds for that.  But when it comes to who gets destroyed, that’s a complex discussion that involves thoughts on Christology and Eschatology and atonement and Old Testament prophecy and a slew of other things that I’ve not yet been able to give myself a satisfactory answer.  But that’s for another day.  I’m taking this one step at a time.

But what I do know is that God is too big to be assigned to a few adjectives and pages of theory.  He’s too wise to be unstable in his plan.  He’s too loving to be tyrannical to his creation.  He’s too supreme to have his wishes and desires go unfulfilled.  The aspects of God can be ontologically felt in our hearts, and all I feel in him is love and a peace that I don’t understand.

Comments on: "How Rob Bell Made Me Come Out Of The Closet" (25)

  1. Joshua,

    I came across your blog by way of Dr. Beck’s blog. I didn’t see any comments to this post and I was just curious as to how your coming out of the closet had gone. I’m a non-conservative minister in a typically conservative religious tribe, so I’ve regularly felt the tension you mention in your post. I hope things have gone well.

    God bless,
    BJ

    • joshuasphilosophy said:

      BJ,

      Thank you very much for your response! It’s going….okay I guess. I have a lot of friends and family that read my stuff through Facebook. I put up the article last night and I’ve gotten a lot of feedback. About half my friends have really loved it. The other half has respectfully disagreed, which is a blessing. No one has made it a heated argument yet. I tried to keep the article as humble as respectful as possible – I feel that most folk don’t like to throw down in a debate when their opponent is respectful and logical.

      The thing that I don’t like from all this is the “spiritual concern” that comes from this alternative view. I have a former pastor who I still keep in touch with and admire greatly who read my blog and then posted a plea with churches to reconsider this false docrtine because if hell doesn’t exist, then Jesus was “the biggest idiot who ever lived and the cross was a joke” I also had another person disagree with me because she had a vision of hell and another person tell me that “she just knows” it exsits.

      I gotta be honest, I am hard-wired to be really flegmatic so tension and disunity really bothers me. But I guess I’ll have to get over it since this probably won’t be the first time I write something that creates fallout.

      Grace and peace!

  2. Hi Joshua,
    I also came here to read via Dr. Beck’s blog. Your story is very much like my own, except that I came from Baptist Hell rather than Pentecostal Hell. I can’t tell you how glad I am to be completely out of the Baptist world. Your statement, “My religion was a child abuser” is SO on the mark.
    Thank you for sharing your story.
    Patricia

    • joshuasphilosophy said:

      Patricia,

      While I wouldn’t wish the anxiety of hell on a child, it does warm my heart to know that there are like-minded people out there. I very much value your response 🙂

      • Patricia said:

        I’m also kind of in limbo, wondering where to go from here. We’ve been attending (sporadically at best) a little Methodist offshoot with a young pastor who is a Rob Bell fan. I introduced him to George MacDonald. But honestly we really don’t fit in there. It’s mostly college students and newlyweds and young families, exhibiting a kind of idealized spiritualization. We’re fortysomethings with teenagers, the resident dinosaurs, and, shall we say, lost our Christian idealism virginity a long time ago. I’m doubtful anymore that churchianity and Christianity even mesh.

  3. I too linked from Dr Beck’s blog and read your story with interest. When I was a teenager I was warned about my school chaplain (I’m in UK, not sure you have them in US) by well meaning youth pastors because he no longer believed in eternal punishment. To them, this amounted to ‘giving up on the gospel’, but you only had to spend time with him to see he’d done no such thing.

    I’ve found it hugely liberating to read books by people with an alternative view (Thomas Talbott’s The Inescapable Love of God is one of the best in my opinion – biblically thorough and good at finding holes in traditionalists’ arguments). When you’ve been conditioned from a young age in a particular mindset it’s good to see how people outside that world see those views and the blindspots that may have developed. I’ve also found it helpful being part of a church whose leaders, while being broadly evangelical, are more open to other views and don’t aim to be a theological thought police. It makes it easier to breathe and live in the love that drives out fear.

    • joshuasphilosophy said:

      Ted, I loved your response. Just today I was having a conversation with a friend who grew up with me in the same church. We both agree that our religious upbrining had tremendous value, but it has been such a blessing that we’ve been able to expand our worldview past its borders. The overwhelming majority of youth I grew up with eventually dropped church and God completely and that’s something that bothers me a lot. I hope for oppurtunities where I can tell them that inspite of their angst and confusion that God is still crazy about them.

      Oh, and I have this little personal rule that I will always read a book that someone recommends. Thomas Talbott is now on my Amazon wishlist. Thanks again!

  4. Joshua,

    Thank you for “coming out”! It was an interesting article. I am not sure how to explain my thoughts. I do know that I believe that whoever accepts Christ’s loving gift of salvation will spend eternity with him in paradise. I do think that those who do not wish to serve our loving God will not be forced to spend eternity with him. I do think that an eternity without The Light would be excruciatingly painful – whether it is spent in “hell” or not.

    • joshuasphilosophy said:

      Anna,

      I really like your thoughts and this is something I didn’t touch on. Whether or not hell involves pain or whether or not it is eternal, any time completely away from God would be so awful that it can only be classified as hell.

      I think a lot of people don’t realize the gravity of a life and world without God. I fully believe that the essence of every good thing in life (joy, peace, etc.,) comes from God and apart from him these things would not exist. Being completely cut off from the source of God’s essence would be misery.

  5. Hey man, I missed this post. I like your thoughts, I wonder who it was that mentioned the punishment fitting the crime. I remember having similar thoughts around that time, and I know we ate at the same lunch table a lot. It’s weird we never talked about it.

    I had the same fears growing up, but I never developed the mantra. I wonder if that would have made me feel better or worse!

    My fear during those college years and many that followed was not that I’d sin right before the rapture, but that I’d be (or already was!) one of those unlucky folks that God decided to use for a greater purpose by hardening their heart. With all those stories in the bible, it just seemed like my luck would turn that way.

    And then I remember reading things like John 6:44; “44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day.”

    As it is now, I’m pretty sure I’m screwed. I find myself wanting so much to care about resuming my walk with Christ (to use the Christianese term) … but I just can’t. I can’t even care. If the God of the Bible is the real deal, and so many men in history had their hearts hardened by Him for His purposes and ended up, well… wherever is not heaven, then I just lose all desire to associate with the Big Guy.

    I’m loving and good natured, and I have my flaws that I work on, but even I’m not the type to f*** with someone just to prove a point. Seems like a bad example to follow.

    In Reason’s name 😛

    ADJ

  6. joshuasphilosophy said:

    Ladies and gentlemen, a rising star in the fiction world has posted on my blog! (Sorry man I couldn’t help it. But it’s kinda true. I’m going to be really jealous when you get a novel published before me 😛 ) I have an opinion on the whole God hardening hearts issue, but in order to give it, I have to flesh out my thoughts on God’s nature. Sorry I’m long-winded.

    We have the exact same thoughts and problems about God being this vengeful kid with a magnifying glass and we’re nothing but his ants. In the past couple years, I’ve also disassociated myself with that particular “Big Guy”. It’s the classic problem with evil. If God really, truly wants all to be saved, then his method is really flawed. I’m not sure what the exact number is, but if you’d take all people throughout history, the number who claims Christianity is just a sliver. But let’s pretend it’s 2%. So God says, “Gee whiz I’d love for everyone to be reconciled to me but, oh shucks, I guess there’s nothing I can do about it.” So God get’s a 2% on the biggest test of his life.

    So then there are the Calvinists who at least admit there’s a problem with this equation but then they make it even more stupid. If God intentionally created 98% of people just to cook them forever and then demands the other 2% to acknowledge as this great and loving God. And that’s just moronic. I haven’t got it all ironed out in my head yet but if God wants to reconcile all the earth (which is in the Bible a gazillion times) and God is all-powerful and sovereign (another gazillion times) then I’m convinced that Christ will compel most (maybe even all?) people to him eventually…even if its after death…or after a time of punishment. I’m not convinced of any hard details, all I know that the modern traditional view of God and salvation is really rather dumb and, I believe, unbiblical.

    So when it comes to God intentionally doing things like hardening hearts and using evil for good purposes, that issue no longer bothers me as much. Take Pharaoh for instance. God hardened his heart. Some will argue that God allowed it to be hardened, thereby giving God a free pass. Others will say that we can’t even grasp or shouldn’t even question God’s ways because he’s sovereign. I don’t like these answers. It might be possible that God sometimes uses evil to bring about good – I’m on the fence with that one. But even if God does sometimes harden hearts for his purpose, I’m convinced that this doesn’t mean those people are ultimately condemned to hell (or something like it). So did Pharaoh eventually…somehow…in this life or the next- come around and confess Christ as lord and become reconciled to God? I’d like to believe so.

    Having that kind of hope is deemed flaky and heretical by most evangelical Americans. But I honestly can’t see how anyone can believe in a system that puts so much weight on human action and moral luck to determine where they’re going to spend eternity and still be able to follow Jesus’ commands which were mostly about taking care of each other HERE and NOW.

    Also in Reason’s name (In the beginning was the logos) 🙂

  7. Josh,

    Thanks for your reply (and kind words).

    I’m on board with you about 95% of the way. I think I’ve just gone one or two steps further.

    Let’s back up one more step to see how I got where I am today:

    Reverse Pascall’s Wager for a moment and things get hairy. If there are 100 religions and I choose one and you choose another and another guy chooses none, well, two of us are probably wrong, and quite possibly all three. See, there are 98 other religions none of us have picked.

    What if there is a Hell, but it’s the Muslim Hell? What if the Jewish idea of Heaven is the right one? When you factor in how many religions make these claims, shit man, the chances of having the right religion by chance, just by growing up in a Christian family, are pretty slim. There are a few hundred (thousand?) other versions of Hell I’m just hoping aren’t real.

    So then I just stopped and said, “What if there is no Heaven, no Hell? I have the same one in a thousand chance or so of being right, right?”

    Think about it. You and me are both making one bet out of thousands of options. No religion is only one of those options. We have the same chances, really.

    So yeah, I have no proof there is a God, but I could be wrong and I’m totally open to that. I would love to be wrong. Beside the fact that it’d be cool to just know, then I could work on figuring out which Heaven to aim for, which Hell I’m avoiding.

    But I see no evidence for any of those options at the moment.

    So for now I just end up spending a little more time with my family and a little less money supporting child molesters in funny hats (Catholic joke, had to (you know I’m not Catholic anyway (wow this is a lot of parenthesis)))!

    But seriously, my life isn’t any different now. Actually, I got cancer while I was a Christian. I went into remission while still a Christian, too. And now? Nothing’s really different. I still have cancer. I’m still happily married, I now have a great little kid, and life still sucks sometimes despite all that.

    So I’m with you, I see no reason to believe in Hell. I just see the foundation for belief in God or Heaven on the same par. I hope that’s not offensive. I really mean this to be frank without being pejorative.

    Later.

  8. How dare you use Pascall’s Wager – the evangelical trump card for reasons against Christianity! 😛 (I’m being sarcastic, by the way. I never was much of a fan of the wager.)

    First off, your honest thoughts about God and religion won’t offend me one tiny bit. I tend to get along best with honest non-Christians, atheists, and people who just don’t really know where they’re at on the whole religious spectrum. Maybe this is too postmodern of me, but I don’t get along too well with people who think they have it all figured out, especially when it comes to God. I feel that most Christians are just as confused (and maybe more) as everyone else but they’re too afraid to ask questions that may conflict with what they learned in Sunday School. So you don’t ever have to apologize for your thoughts, because I appreciate them and completely agree with you – or at least did at some point in my life.

    I’d be completely lying if I said there wasn’t any emotional causation in my Christians beliefs. Now, with that being said, I’m horribly skeptical and question and over-think everything. I envy uber-passionate Christians who pretty much have the blind man’s faith of “I once was blind, but now I see”. I’m passionate, but I have to have a reason. Descartes is my favorite Philosopher because he stripped off everything he thought he knew in his writings called “Meditations”. And I had to come to the point where I had to strip down every concrete thought and fact I thought I knew about God.

    Turned out I didn’t know a lot. Still don’t.

    But rationalizing the existence of God wasn’t hard for me. For me at least, that one was easy to reconcile in my head. The question for me was, since I believe that God exists, how I will choose to view him or should I even consider trying.

    I’ve come to the point in my life where I feel that question shouldn’t be based on the consequences of being wrong. If this were the case, the majority of us would be screwed. If the Jews are right, Gentiles are in trouble. If the Muslims are right, the infidels are in trouble, etc. I choose Christianity because to me it’s the most compelling. Christianity (in its correct form) has an incredible view of who God is. I’m super comfortable with the oddities and flaws of the Bible. And Christianity is the best and one of the only religions that focuses on taking care of and redeeming the world now – even though Christians really screw up this fact.

    So let’s pretend one day we find out that Islam is correct and all infidels are going to hell. Even if I wasn’t a Christian, chances are I still wouldn’t become a Muslim so either way I’m eternally screwed. I may as well just use this short life I have to make the best of it. I honestly feel like I am making the best of it with Christianity. I am so freaking content with life and it mostly has to do with my religion.

    So to use half of Pascal’s Wager (as much as it pains me), I feel I don’t have much to lose if I’m wrong. I believe that God is all loving and that he’s going to one day redeem the world and has called us to play an active role in helping fix some of the hell on earth. I believe that we can experience at least some of that heaven now in spite of a messed up world. If I’m wrong about all that, well at least I’m super happy in my delusions and at least used my delusions to help alleviate a little bit of the suffering that goes on around me.

    In short, I want to be the guy that parties the hardest, that loves the biggest, the gives the deepest; that treats life like an awesome buffet and treats his deity like he can Skype him at anytime. I could be wrong…but dang my life is awesome.

    By the way, happy birthday.

  9. I need to invent Pascal’s Pager and sell them on late night TV and Christian Broadcasting.

    Basically, the thing will beep once someone figures out the right religion for sure.

    • Pascal’s Pager…epic. Bonus models could also predict the rapture, a zombie apocalypse, and/or the day Rebecca Black wins a grammy.

  10. I can’t decide which of those scenarios is scarier.

  11. Matthew Smithers said:

    Josh, I understand. Hey, I just thought I would tell you, Dr. Shaka admitted to his theology class that he struggled with the doctrine of Annihilation. He had a hard time believing in eternal torment. I admired Shaka. He’s not a stupid man.

    As for rejection, I understand that too. After all, I was kicked out of NCU for some flippant comments I made in the Pentecostal History class. Why? Because I offended some black students. Never mind the student who threatened to shoot me. Never mind the hate they all showed to me. It was shocking to see how fast all the “Christian love” could change so fast!

    For the record, the 3 statements issued against me for my expulsion were lies. I never made those statements, and denying I said them was not enough to save me. It was clear that I did not fit their political ideology so they kicked me out.

    What I’m trying to say is, I realized all of a sudden that all their talk about the kingdom of God is non-sense. I took it seriously, but they did not. And I realized, just how fast those who break bread at the altar and prayed with me, could deny me, turn their back, or gloat at me with hatred. I will never forget it. My belief in the family of God is forever crushed. It is an illusion.

    Therefore, I do not condemn you. Nobody deserves isolation for asking theological questions…. or making socio-political statements. Hang in there.

    • Matthew, you need to know that there are 1000’s of ordinary Pentecostal believers who still love and pray for you regardless of where you are at. Unless you did something else that you’re not telling us, they had no reason to kick you out of NCU for just expressing doubts.

  12. Christian love is conditional. Whether or not Christ’s love is may be another discussion.

    But the belief that you love everyone like god does … but once in a while it’s okay to kill a homo or burn a witch (ignoring that whole thou shalt not kill thing) means you only have to love those who god doesn’t want dead/ostracized/excommunicated/imprisoned etc…

    The best, most unconditional love you’ll ever find is that of a child untainted by dogma or blind faith. Just make sure that child grows up without being handed excuses as to who it’s okay to marginalize and then maybe our next generation will have a chance.

    /rant

  13. I have a problem with both fundamentalists and postmodernists in this issue, having gone to churches in both organizations. I think both go to extremes (fundamentalists=extremely proscriptive; postmodernists=extremely lax) in their own way and I have problems with both views.

    I believe in Jesus because he is the only expression of the Creator in the flesh of the 1000’s of religions of mankind. I believe that He is love but love must also be tough at times because the truth of the way to Heaven is not the univeralism that man-made religion likes to preach. Otherwise, why was Jesus so intent on going to the cross if everybody was going to heaven anyway…He should have listened to Peter.

    Like Anna, I believe that Jesus is the only way to God and that God sorrowfully and lovingly gives those who chose not to believe and follow Jesus their choice-eternal separation from Him. But there are too many reasons to follow him anyway, I’ve seen it in the charity of both of ordinary common people in both the Fundamentalist and Postmodern camps-I choose to ignore the leaders in both camps-that’s why I follow Jesus.

    But then some people deserve to go to Hell, you can see it in the way they treat people…Jesus said as much to Scribes and Pharisees. So if you are so smug that you have the right belief or lack of belief, you better check and see how it plays out in how you treat the ordinary people in your life. If you are a user of people for your own ends, some fire insurance might not be a bad idea.

    • Brent,

      I enjoyed your thoughts and agree – I don’t mesh with both ends of the spectrum. As far as hell and punishment goes, I am all for it. There is nothing I’d love more than for people who are involved in the sex slave trade and child abusers to suffer some severe punishment. But then again, perhaps I too deserve a bit of hell for years of being indifferent to human suffering. The thing I struggle with is the the ‘eternal’ aspect. I’m actually comfortable with the concept of punishment and judgment, which is something a lot of people shy away from. But I feel that punishment must always be paired with reconciliation. That is why I struggle with it being eternal.

  14. Okay, let’s talk about deserving punishment.

    Jeffrey Dahmer deserved to go to Hell.

    But he got saved on death row.

    Ghandi, on the other hand, is now burning in Hell according to your doctrine.

    But Dahmer is up there in heaven right now trading awkward glances with the young men he kidnapped, raped, tortured, lobotomized (in order to turn them into sex zombies), killed, raped again, then ate.

    Let’s get real. Even Hitler’s crimes were finite. Even Hitler deserves a finite (though incredibly long, arduous) punishment. But under your system, even Hitler could put his tail between his legs at the last minute and, like Dahmer, squeeze in on a technicality.

    That’s your idea of love? Of justice? Of what people deserve?

    * * *

    Unlike God, I don’t think you’re a wretched sinner. I don’t think you’re a worm or an outcast or unworthy of reward for the good you’ve done. I also think you should take responsibility for your own misdeeds, but directly, yourself, face to face with those you have wronged. How much better would the world be if so much of the population didn’t just let Jesus take the rap for their mistakes?

    I love you without fear of punishment, without the enticement of a reward. I do the good, charitable, honorable, decent things I do for their own sake, for the enjoyment of those people to whom they are directed. And because it makes me feel good to do so. Not because God is threatening me with fire or wagging a cookie in front of my face.

    Your belief system allows for all manner of evil people into eternal bliss if they say the magic words, even at the last minute of a horrible life. It consigns billions to “eternal separation from God” for being born in the wrong time or place.

    That’s God’s brilliant idea? That most people, well over 90% of all the people born even in the last 2000 years alone, will go to Hell? That’s his amazing plan? Those numbers suck. If that’s the best he could do, I’m not sure I’d want to use him as a model for much of anything, least of all a model for love.

  15. Are you addressing this to me or Brent? I thought you knew that I no longer jive at all with that doctrine so I’m assuming you’re talking to Brent.

    But you bring up a good point about Gandi and Dahmer. I have serious issues with that as well. And I think Christians who think that Dahmer get’s a free pass with no judgment while Gandi cooks forever needs to reconsider some things. Without going in to a huge reply (I have a ton o’ homework) I’ll just post a link of one of my favorite bloggers who tackles this issue a little.

    http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.com/2010/03/unspoken-sermons-our-god-is-consuming.html

  16. Sorry, I didn’t specify, and you literally responded as I was typing my response.

    It was directed toward Brent… but I also forgot the /rant tags and apropo emoticons to connote the overall tone. I’m really good at coming across wrong, so I hope I don’t.

    * * *

    My overall point is just that, this whole idea of needing to be redeemed for original sin, of condemning billions of people for not even hearing about Jesus since the “good news” didn’t get out of the Middle East for around fifteen centuries, the whole business of making us “sick” then demanding we be well…

    Well, it’s not my fault.

    Design flaws rest on the shoulders of the designer, and frankly, call his intelligence into question. 😛

    And if he did come up with Hell, and that’s where the lion’s share of his creation is going, he should be honest about his attitude toward the human race.

    I don’t believe any of that, and am therefore freed from the awful and, in my eyes, insurmountable task of defending it.

    /rant

    (It’s easier when I’m not on my iPhone.)

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