“Our cultural fascination with vampires […] runs the gamut from movies to romance novels,” says Russell D. Moore. “Our culture is fascinated, and yet repulsed, by blood. That’s why the flickering image of blood running down a shower drain is the scariest scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.” Moore’s talk about blood comes from a review of Rob Bell’s Love Wins, where Moore complains about Bell preaching a “blood drained gospel.” Perhaps blood is not the focus in this particularly targeted work, but one of my favorite Bell quotes is that “there is blood on the doorposts of the universe.” And yes, he is in fact referring to the redeeming blood of Christ in that quote. It is not as if Bell denies the blood of Christ. Salvation in Christ is demonstrated in many ways – the rock, light, door, Shepherd, etc. We do not have our hands tied when it comes to sharing our faith. We are free to speak in whatever manner the Spirit of God leads us to speak, regardless what the spiritual police have to say about it.
I’ll be spending less time on Moore’s review than the others, because most of it is fluff and finger-pointing. I do want to touch on a couple of his points, though. First, Moore says that Bell’s arguments are “the same efforts at hell-denial Christianity has seen, and rebutted, in almost every generation from the first century onward.” This is something that many orthodox readers likely skim past, nodding approval, and barely giving real thought to the statement. Pay attention. Here we have a proponent of eternal torment admitting that there have always been Christians who have disagreed with the doctrine of eternal torment. And isn’t that exactly what Bell pointed out in his book? There has always been believers who, despite the persecution, heretic labeling, and shunning that has taken place throughout institutional church history, have refused to subscribe to the doctrine of eternal torment. Why is that? And we must take time to consider in what manner this minority has been “rebutted.” I urge readers to watch my video series on Religious Tolerance for a case-in-point analysis of how the hierarchical authority in the institutional church system aggressively REBUTTS brothers and sisters in Christ rather than their claims. The tactics are not pretty and are most certainly far from fair. But that is exactly what Jesus taught His followers to expect, saying, “Love your enemies. Bless those who curse you. Do good to those who hate you. Pray for those who despitefully use you and persecute you.”
Enemies. Cursed. Hate. Used. Persecuted. And who has been treated like this in the institution of church throughout the centuries? (You guessed it.)
Many Christians are supposedly “persecuted” by the world for their faith, when really they are persecuted for being assholes. I’ll tell you a story to demonstrate using a real-life practical example, but first I need to give you some background information. A couple of weeks ago, a preacher was standing up on a stool next to the sidewalk at the University of Central Florida where I am a full time student. I stopped to listen for a few minutes and a random guy walks up to me and says, “I have a really hard time believing that God is going to send millions of Muslims to eternal torment in Hell forever because they were raised being taught the wrong things about Jesus.” I didn’t even have my “I’m not here with the Hell people” t-shirt on! (Yes, I have one, but God seems to be doing His thing without the need for a t-shirt.) I chatted with him for a few minutes and assured him that God knew exactly what He was doing and that we could trust His judgment to be good and right. And then I remembered that I had recently created/ordered a butt-load of business cards with this message: “Ask God to show you Who He is and what He does. Eternal torment in Hell is religious bullshit. God will never give up on you or anyone, ever.” And on the reverse side it says, “Churchians are afraid of us.” It lists my youtube channel, the Tentmaker website (I highly recommend the scholarly article section), and a website where people can get a free book called Hope Beyond Hell. The card also says, “We don’t want your money. We are not inviting you to church.” The reason I was so in-your-face with the verbage is that people are sick of religious bullshit and hungry for hope, so it resonates with them. Plus it flusters the religious police, because they trip and fall on the word “bullshit.” It’s hilarious. I immediately know the audience, by the looks on their faces. So, I handed the guy one of the cards, and he suddenly started shaking and sort of half-sat/half-dropped to the ground. Some people gathered around asking if he was OK and he spoke very clearly, “Yes, I am fine. I’ve never felt like this before. I just need to sit.” So I went and got him a bottle of water (which took like twenty minutes because of the long walk and waiting in line at the coffee shop – I was thinking the dude would be gone by the time I got back) and there he was, right where I left him, along with the others who had gathered around. So I gave him the bottle of water, and he chugged it as if his life depended on it. Then he said, “I didn’t even know I needed that.” All I could think was LIVING WATER, and yeah, buddy, that is exactly what this whole world needs. I had the opportunity to share my faith with seven people that day, including one of my classmates. And they were the ones approaching me.
Fast forward about a week. There was another preacher near the sidewalk at UCF, and this one was downright nasty. She had her super long hair all twirled up on her head, a skirt to her ankles, and I kid you not, a yellow neon sign with one word, all caps – “HELL” hanging around her neck. As she preached, a young woman made a comment. The preacher stopped, looked her over from head to toe, and said, “Your shorts are too short. They are immodest. You need to repent.” And then she continued preaching as if the girl never said anything. A few minutes later, a heckler started mocking her, throwing f-bombs and such, as she preached against cussing. She looked him up and down and noticed he had headphones on. She asked him what he was listening to, and he replied, “Rock.” “Rock is of Satan,” she replied, and then added that he, too, needs to repent. Then she continued preaching. I decided that since the business card with the message of HOPE and LOVE had so much response the week before that I would just walk around to everyone listening and hand them out. The crowd was pretty big, because this preacher’s approach was off-the-charts rude and cartoonish. As I handed the cards out, I heard a few chuckles here and there behind me as people read them. I gave one to the preacher, figuring she might like to know that she does not need to have HELL chained around her neck, that God cares for the people more than she does. She must have thought that I was one of the side-walk preachers because she started reading it, very loudly… “Ask God to show you Who He is and what He does,” she said. “Eternal torment in Hell…” and of course she stopped when she saw what was next. The crowd who already had their cards chimed in unison, finishing the sentence, “…is religious bullshit.” Several people high-fived and everyone started talking amongst themselves about this odd new (but actually very old) message of HOPE. The preacher turned the card over and shouted, “What is a Churchian?” One of the people in the crowd very politely pointed out, “Um, excuse me, ma’am, but I think that you are a Churchian.”
Well, I have most certainly gone off topic here… where was I?
Oh yes, Moore’s review.
There was one more point I wanted to address. Moore smugly asserts that “…every church that has embraced universalism [has] died out, withering away from the gospel.” One very important thing to consider is the meaning of the church. What is the church? Can you give a good working definition of the church? Now something even more important. Who is the church? Can you describe these people who are the church? Do you see a clear difference between the first definition and the second description? We don’t go to the church, we are the church. And now consider whether that glaring disconnect is there for a reason. For many believers, the meaning of “be not conformed to this age” is be not conformed to this period of time where people have no idea what God’s will ultimately is, “but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, for your proving what is the will of God – the good, and acceptable, and perfect.”
Keeping this idea in mind, let’s take a look at Moore’s claim again, that “…every church that has embraced universalism [has] died out, withering away from the gospel.” What does it look like for the church to die? In countries where religious freedom is denied, the church is dead by appearances, but in reality it flourishes behind the scene. If the church is a building, people on payroll, a set of standards, curriculum, advertising, etc, then, yes, you can say that the churches can and do die. But if the church is a dynamic collection of God’s spies who could be anywhere at any time, then no, the church does not die. If we can apply the “renewing of your mind” concept to our understanding of church as a who instead of church as a what, then we might actually stop fussing with each other so much. I know from experience that the biggest problem I have with believers who embrace eternal torment is not that they embrace eternal torment, it is that they want to shut me up when I disagree with them. I actually love it when the eternal torment preachers come to UCF, because it is a springboard for me to share the Victorious Gospel of Jesus Christ, which swallows up sin/death in the glory of God. Preach against it all you want, people! It only furthers the name of Christ in the long run. Blog against it all you want! It’s ok. We cool. Well, at least, I’m cool. I can’t force others to be cool with me. I come against their message, and their methods, not them. My fight is not against flesh and blood. Censoring, shunning, and persecuting people is wrong.
If “…every church that has embraced universalism [has] died out, withering away from the gospel,” why have we, the believers who have wayyyyy more hope than other believers, always been around, in every generation? And we are still here today preaching, “God made the One who knew no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we would become the righteousness of God.” You can’t kill this message, because it is God’s message. But you can wear yourself out trying…