The Missiological Case for Hell

One of the common, but strange, responses to Rob Bell’s infamous lack of enthusiasm for eternal torture has been what we might call the Missiological Case for Hell.

This case was articulated recently by Russell Moore, dean of the school of theology at Southern Seminary, during a Team Hell Strategy Session at Al Mohler’s Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. The (Southern) Baptist Press summarizes Moore’s remarks on the Missiological Case for Hell:

Bell’s view of salvation, Moore said, is wrong biblically but also flawed practically and will lead to empty church pews. If the pastor says there is no judgment and everyone will end up in heaven, then people have little motivation to follow Christ, Moore and the other panelists said.

“You never have a universalist Great Awakening,” Moore said. “… The very thing [Rob Bell] is attempting to do, it never succeeds. You always wind up losing the church and unable to reach the people outside the church.”

Moore says the church will collapse without the threat of judgment. And, to be clear, “judgment” must mean nothing less than the vast majority of humankind suffering consciously for eternity in the Hell that Moore, et. al., imagine (magical fire, merciless God, “holy” as synonym for “sadistic,” etc.). Without that threat, Moore says, there can be no revival, no evangelism, no missionary outreach, no church growth. Without Hell, the church will shrink and shrivel and fade away.

This is hogwash.

I don’t mean “I think, in my opinion, that this is hogwash,” I mean that Russell Moore thinks, in his opinion, that this is hogwash. Or he would have if he had thought this through, because the silliness he’s advocating here slanders the church and all of its members, including himself. Russell Moore is unjustly impugning the motives of Russell Moore and maliciously accusing Russell Moore of believing things that Russell Moore does not believe.

The embrace of the Missiological Case for Hell represents a shift in the argument of Team Hell that Moore acknowledges here. The doctrine of Hell, Moore argues, is “practical.” It is useful. It works. That is a much lesser claim than the assertion that the doctrine of Hell is true. And it’s a much lesser claim than the assertion — which Moore presumes, without support — that the doctrine of Hell is something the Bible teaches.

What neither Moore nor his colleagues on the Team Hell panel discussion seems to notice is that this panel discussion was explicitly organized because they all believe that Moore’s “practical” argument is not true. The panel was called together, Al Mohler says, because of Rob Bell’s tremendous popularity. “He has a tremendous influence, especially with younger evangelicals, and I think that’s why we have to talk about this,” Mohler said at the outset of the discussion.

This is why this panel of Team Hell luminaries was there in the first place, because people are packing the pews at Rob Bell’s church and because his “Love Wins” message is reaching more and more people inside and outside the church.

So Moore shows up for a talk in response to the growing popularity of a movement producing explosive church growth and dramatic outreach, and then proceeds to say that this movement is wrong because it is unpopular, it will shrink churches and end outreach. Bell’s ideas are wrong because they will lead to empty pews, which is why Bell must be stopped from filling the pews by preaching those ideas. Or something like that. If Moore can’t be bothered to make sense of what he’s saying then it’s unfair to expect the rest of us to make sense of it for him.

In any case, I haven’t time here for a full refutation of the Missiological Case for Hell, but let’s just quickly look at three counter-examples — three “practical” case studies — that cast doubt on this whole notion of the missiological and ecclesiological usefulness of a doctrine of Hell.

Case Study No. 1: Paul

The enthusiasts of Team Hell would likely agree with me that St. Paul was a very successful missionary. We could attribute his success to the work of the Holy Spirit, or we could credit it to Paul’s sharp wits and dogged determination, but one thing that no one can possibly argue is that Paul’s success as a missionary was due to his preaching about Hell and his stern warning of the certainty of future, eternal, conscious torment for unbelievers.

Paul never gave such a warning. Never. Like all of the other apostles and missionaries and early church leaders portrayed in the book of Acts, Paul never spoke of Hell. Paul’s gospel made no mention of Hell.

And yet his listeners seem to have found far more of a “motivation to follow Christ” than any of the fearful followers of the missionaries of Team Hell. Paul’s listeners seemed to understand the gospel that he preached as good news that was actually good news.

As Rob Bell points out, the unbiblical substitute for that good news promoted by Team Hell is not really good news at all. If the good news is primarily that some few have a chance to escape the otherwise inevitable fate of conscious, eternal torment, then this message isn’t really news that most people will hear as good. And in any case, this is not the gospel that the Bible teaches. That gospel — the good news of God crucified, risen and triumphant over sin and death — is proclaimed repeatedly in scripture, but never is it presented as How To Escape Eternal Torture in Hell. The accusation that Team Hell loves to level at people like Bell — that it is callous and irresponsible not to confront the damned unbelievers with an explicit warning of the Hell that awaits them — can and must be applied even more strongly against Paul, Jesus, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Q and all the apostles of the early church as portrayed in Acts.

Case Study No. 2: Russell Moore.

I don’t know Russell Moore, dean of the school of theology at Southern Seminary. I have never met him. But I know this much about him: Russell Moore is not a Christian because of the fear of eternal, conscious torment in Hell.

Moore believes that if he were not a Christian, then he would be destined for such eternal, conscious torment. And yet that’s still not the main reason he is a Christian. It’s not one of the top five reasons. Or the top 10.

Again, I don’t know Moore and I have never heard him tell the story of his own faith, but I know this is true for him because it is true for everyone who is a Christian. Get Moore away from the microphone and away from his official duties as a Defender of the Doctrine of Hell and then ask him why he is a Christian and I don’t know specifically what he would say, but I know generally. He would speak of God’s love for him and of his love for God. He would tell you about faith and hope, grace and gratitude, meaning and purpose. He would tell you about the love that was shown to him by some devout disciple or group of disciples and about the inspiring examples of good people he has known. He may say something about Heaven, but mainly in the context of God’s great love and the longing to experience that love as directly as possible. He may tell you some story of some numinous personal experience that he will apologize for being unable to articulate. He may tell you about his parents and grandparents.

But he won’t talk about Hell. If he mentions it at all, it will be as an afterthought — as though being rescued from the certainty of eternal torture was just a fringe benefit of all the rest, an added bonus.

I do not know anyone who is a Christian because of the fear of eternal torment in Hell. I know several people who used to be Christians, briefly, because someone had taught them this idea of Hell and that becoming a Christian was the only way to escape certain torture. But none of those folks were happy or proud about having made that decision for that reason, and it didn’t last. The preacher or teacher who had so vividly described the invisible and eternal gun to their head didn’t turn out to have much lasting influence.

I suppose there are congregations where the preacher invokes that invisible threat week after week, twice on Sundays and again on Wednesday nights. And I suppose something might arise in such congregations that might seem like a passable imitation of love for God, or that might feel like a functional substitute for belief that God loves us. But that’s not love, or faith, or discipleship. That’s Stockholm syndrome and it, too, will fade once the hostages are safely distant from the constant stress of the coercive threat.

Which brings us to our final case study.

Case Study No. 3: Saddam Hussein

The Missiological Case for Hell reminds me of one of the stranger stories about Saddam Hussein, the late and unlamented dictator of Iraq. Saddam ruled through fear but, at some level, he wanted his terrified subjects to love him.

We know that Saddam wanted their love — uncoerced, untainted by fear — because he wrote a novel and released it secretly under a pseudonym. The love and acclaim the people would pour out for this anonymous author, the dictator hoped, would be genuine and voluntary and he would at last know what it meant to be loved in truth and not just to have others falsely proclaim their love for him out of fear of torture and death.

But alas, the novel was apparently awful. It was panned and mocked and it did not sell.

That was intolerable for the tyrant, so he leaked the true identity of the author. Suddenly all the critics who had found it wanting recanted, lavishing it with forced praise. It became a best-seller in Iraq, but only in Iraq — only in the one country where people were forced, out of fear and the threat of torture, to pretend that they loved a man they actually despised, a man who deserved to be despised because of those very threats of torture.

Saddam published several more novels — all in his own name. They received massive critical acclaim and commercial success, but only within his realm. The Iraqis’ love for Saddam’s novels — like their love for Saddam himself — was a charade. And Saddam knew it was a charade. But he embraced that charade because it was the best he could hope for, because it was more than he deserved. For the despicable tyrant, feigned affection at gunpoint was preferable to the genuine contempt it masked.

God desires something better than that. And God deserves something better than that.

Even Saddam Hussein knew that love is not real if it is coerced under threat of torture. If fear and loathing masquerading as love could not fool Saddam Hussein, then you can be sure it does not fool God either. That is not what God wants from us. God wants our genuine love, freely given.

Why, then, would anyone think that God had arranged the universe in such a way as to guarantee that God would never be able to receive genuine love, freely given, but only a fearful, coerced imitation? I believe that God is good and I believe that God is smart — too good and too smart to confuse coercion with love.

Unlike the advocates of the Missiological Case for Hell, I believe that God is better and smarter than Saddam Hussein.

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  • Anonymous

    I agree. After all, I’m not aware of anyone who is bothered by the fact that there was once a time when s/he didn’t exist. But the idea that such a time might come again seems distressing to many people.

  • Shadsie

    There was some point in my life before I’d tasted chocolate. Having tasted chocolate, I know that chocolate is good. I don’t ever want to “un-taste” it. I’ve tasted it, know that it is good, and generally speaking – would like to keep on eating it every once in a while.

  • agia

    nonexistence seems much more viscerally frightening to me, but I suspect I’d discover otherwise if I actually found myself burning in a pit for all eternity, even if for no other reason than it would get really tiresome (I run into that issue when thinking of heaven, also).

  • it’s funny, it occurs to me that both afterlife and lack of afterlife can be ways to avoid the concept of death. Some people are comforted by the thought that their consciousness does in fact survive and they don’t have to die; others are comforted in the idea that consciousness will simply end and they won’t have to exist past death.

    I feel like if I do exist past death, it will be traumatic and painful to have to deal with the fact of having died. I’ll have to be separated from the people I love, at least until they die, and that separation will be painful. I’ll have things that I was planning to do that now I never can – it’ll be Time Enough at Last, only without my body I’ll have broken my glasses and can’t read.

    Even if I get past that, if there’s plenty of time to heal, I think I prefer the idea of just stopping. I would never know that I had stopped; once my consciousness goes out, there will be nothing left to remember whatever might cause me pain. To me, nonexistence as a concept is a way to not have to deal with having died.

  • Shadsie

    For anyone who might be interested, I just finished polishing it up and posting it… I’ve been spending the day (between looking in on here and other shiny internet things) finishing a short story upon this very subject – (questions of the afterlife).

    Before you read it – it is a Fantasy story… an afterlife setup for a speculative-fiction world, which means it’s not serious apologetics in the least, more of a “my world, my rules” thing. The first half of it is the setup of the legends among a subset of people in said world, the other half of it is a young man who doesn’t believe in the afterlife arguing with his grim reaper just after he’s been killed. The grim reaper character (a small, fuzzy cat) posits that between those that believe in an afterlife and those who do not, in a weird way, *both* may be right. (Yes, the goal of this story is to be a mind-screw).

    By the way, the young man who doesn’t believe in the afterlife is *not* an athiest. His people worship a creator goddess, they just don’t hold to an afterlife.

    Reading different people’s opinions on on the subject helped me to write this.

  • I’m an atheist Australian, and at least in inner Melbourne, where I lived until recently, atheism is, as Pepper and Deird have said, very culturally acceptable. Given that, as Pepper mentioned, in the last two terms of federal government we’ve had a Cristian PM then an atheist one, Christianity and atheism evidently are both tolerable to many people in a lot of the country.

    Until reading what Pepper said about people lying in the census, I’d assumed the census data was accurate, with many Australians evidently being Christians for whom atheism/Christianity was at most a minor factor in judging politicians. I’d assumed that the reason so many of the people whose religious beliefs I was familiar with were atheists was some combination of atheists being “louder” than theists and atheism being more common in inner Melbourne than in other parts of Australia. Now they’ve mentioned it, I think I remember my father saying he was Catholic despite not believing in the divinity of Jesus anymore, since he’d been baptised Catholic.

  • Is there any way to take my real name off this? I thought I’d be able to change it to something else.

  • cyllan

    You can change your profile such that whatever you want shows up in the “Full Name” section.

  • chris the cynic

    When I started composing this, which I guess would have been two days ago (though most of the composition was in my head until yesterday evening) the thread was only four pages long. This can probably be expected to be at least that far behind the conversation. I wish it were better (and more concise), I think that Dash’s post deserves a better response because it brings up a very tricky issue, but this is what I have

    I’m going to try to separate the emotional component of my response, which isn’t necessarily rational, from the rest. I’ll probably fail, as that’s not easy thing to do. First the everything else:

    Religion is difficult to compare too precisely with race. It doesn’t make sense to speak in terms of correct and incorrect when it comes to race, but it does in terms of religion. Religions, and certain flavors of atheism, make statements about reality which are either true or false. This body of statements is related in a way such that if certain ones are true then others must be false. So the right to openly be X is largely inseparable from the right to openly say that you think large swaths of not-X are false. “(I believe) You’re all wrong,” is kind of intrinsic to the whole thing. That isn’t the case when it comes to getting equal rights for different races.

    It would be simple for me to say that, for the most part, the civil rights movement was not about putting down those outside of it. It would be easy to point out that while MLK Jr. did inconvenience a lot of people he never came out and said, “My race is superior to all of your races,” which would have had the effect of not just pissing off the white majority but also of serving to kick every other downtrodden race while they were down. It would be easy to claim that this same lack of kicking people who are already down could and should be adopted by atheists without thinking about whether it’s really possible.

    That’s what I’d like to say, but I can see why it doesn’t apply as well as it might. Saying that every other group is incorrect and you are correct is tied pretty closely to the ability to freely state your beliefs when your belief is that the thing that every other group believes in (or at least fails to disbelieve in) does not exist. Ditto if your belief is that something is unknowable given present information when that something is one that other groups claim they know the truth of falsehood of. It gets even more difficult if you believe, as some do, that the other groups are aware on some level that your position is correct.

    Certainly atheists should have the right to say that religious individuals are liars who know, deep down, that there’s no such thing as divinity. Tim Lahaye makes full use of his right to tell them that they’re all liars who know, deep down, that there is a God. But the thing is, Tim Lahaye is an asshole for exercising that right. And that’s where I see a problem. Everyone obviously should have equal right to be an asshole, but I don’t believe that making use of that right is necessarily a good thing.

    There are a lot of religious beliefs in my country and at least some of them are treated like utter shit by the majority. That is bad. From my point of view it is also bad to add to that by attacking their beliefs from the other direction. Giant public messages from atheists that say, “We are human beings who deserve the same rights and the same respect as everyone else,” definitely aren’t an attack on those groups, but some of the ones that venture further onto, “You’re all wrong!” side of things certainly feel to me like attacking the afflicted. I’m not a big fan of it when the hegemony does it, I don’t see why I shouldn’t be opposed to other people doing it.

    Perhaps it is unavoidable. But if it is unavoidable I’d like to hear that argument. I’d like to see that there was some thought put into answering the question, “Is stepping on these other people the only path to our rights?” I know that in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s thought was put into exactly who would be inconvenienced and how. Thought was put into not just what marchers were trying to say but also what it might look like they were saying. I’m not saying that that isn’t happening here, but I personally haven’t heard the argument and until I do I’m wary of some of the things I see.

    If I try to come up with an explanation for the reasoning going on, in certain cases the nicest thing I can come up with is that the position towards religions outside of the hegemony is something like, “We’re not trying to attack you, we’re ignoring your very existence entirely and thus not even considering whether you might be harmed.” I’m not kidding, that incredibly hurtful position is the nicest one I’ve been able to come up with on my own (in such cases.)

    So without any explanation on why things like that need to be done, my position when I see or learn of such a billboard/poster/thing tends to be to hope that the hegemony lands on the head of whoever created the billboard/poster/thing when it falls and think that the creators are being jerks.

    Remember though that this applies to only some of the messages we’ve been discussing.

    Ok, so for the emotional part. This doesn’t really contribute to the conversation beyond telling about my mindset and thus, possibly, allowing others to see any bias in my view I may have overlooked. Anyone who isn’t interested in that should skip the rest of this post.

    For some reason in my head I’m not seeing them as billboards but posters on the wall of a subway station. It would be nice if I could attribute this to the lack of billboards in Maine, but we don’t have subway stations either. It’s an emotional response, it doesn’t have to make sense.

    What I feel is a scene, and it goes something like this:

    There’s a young woman, on her head is an orange knit hat that her mother gave her before back before her family kicked her out and told her never to come back. The zippers on her coat pockets have long since broken. She once tried keeping things in them anyway. She will never make that mistake again. The pencil her jeans digs into her leg each time she takes a step. The thumb of her left glove is torn, thankfully not all the way through. She doesn’t know exactly how that happened. She can’t afford to buy a luxury item like new gloves. Besides, they still keep her hands warm (for the most part) and they still keep her hands dry (for the most part.)

    Her job gives her enough to have a place to stay, and remain fed (for the most part.) She can’t complain. Not when there are so many without work. She thanks God for her job, and prays for more jobs to be created, though she isn’t sure what God can do. Getting someone in the right place at the right time to get an open job is simple enough, but actually creating jobs strikes her as something that requires solutions more human than divine. She might occasionally dream of God simply creating money for those without jobs to use in the meantime, and more specifically of it raining gold in a way that somehow manages not to be a painful hail of metal, but she’s fairly sure that would cause some kind of inflationary catastrophe or other.

    As she enters the station she avoids eye contact. Her eyes stay to floors, walls and, occasionally, ceilings. She hasn’t felt comfortable around people since every friend she ever had left her and her church denounced her as a heretic. She doesn’t realize it, but she changes her entire posture. She wraps her arms around her waist, her back curls forward and her shoulders bend inward. She presents as small a profile as she can to the world. She tries to make it through invisibly. Being surrounded by people makes her uncomfortable so she ends up hugging the wall. She keeps her eyes on the wall so that when she runs across a payphone -does anyone still use those?- she doesn’t run headlong into it.

    Then she sees it. She stops in her tracks. “You KNOW it’s a Myth. This Season Celebrate REASON!” She didn’t expect to find that here. She thought she’d left behind, or rather been left behind by, those who would tell her she was being disingenuous about her religious beliefs. Yet here it is: someone else calling her a liar. Someone else calling her unreasonable. She starts moving again, a bit faster, the pencil digging into her leg a bit harder with every step. She tries not to think about the fact that she isn’t welcome and isn’t loved. That she can’t even move from point A to point B without being reminded that in the eyes of others she’s nothing but a dirty little liar.

    Now obviously there are some things wrong with the above. As I’ve already pointed out, here we are talking about billboards and in my mind is a scene taking place in a subway station. That’s relatively minor though. The largest issue is probably that, unlike me, she’s a Christian. Specifically (and I know this doesn’t really come through in the above, sorry) a Rob Bell Christian who comes from a RTC upbringing, but in this case her Christianity is probably more important than her particular brand of it. She’s a Christian, that makes her part of the hegemony. She is the target. (If that isn’t clear to you from the message itself, though I think it should be, recall that I took that message from a billboard that was presented by its creators as an effort to earn the mantle of perpetrators of The War on Christmas which had previously been thrust upon them.)

    She’s overflowing with religious privilege. She’s a Christian, her boss is almost certainly a Christian, it is safe to assume that most of the people she shrinks back from in the subway station are Christians, her elected officials are probably Christians, people she sees on tv are predominantly Christian, characters she encounters in fiction are mostly Christian, whenever she is told that she’ll suffer for all eternity the person doing its probably a Christian, so on, and so forth. She’s surrounded by her coreligionists. If she should get up the courage to go to a church again she’ll have plenty of Christian churches to choose from. Her cup runneth over with religious privilege as evidenced further by the fact that the commonly employed phrase, “My cup runneth over,” is a quote from a book she holds sacred. Her religion is in the culture and even the language.

    Making her uncomfortable was the entire point of the billboard in question, so I really shouldn’t be thinking of this when I’m thinking of atheist billboard distressing those without privilege (and possibly doing it unintentionally.) Unfortunately the above is where my mind goes. I can’t help it.

    Given what I want to say, which I have tried to say earlier (before I described what my emotional reaction is), I should be thinking about other messages (ones not targeted so specifically at Christians) and other people (not Christians) reading them.

    I should be thinking about a pagan who has to constantly fight to be accepted only to be called a liar regarding his belief about the existence of so much as one god (“you know there is no god,” and messages like it) and in so doing be reminded that his belief in multiple gods is seen as unworthy of consideration. I should be thinking about a Muslim, or a Jew, or a Sikh or whatever the word is for someone who follows the Bahai faith, I should be thinking about someone who practices any of the many native religions here, or a Hindu, or a member of any of the many other non-Christian religious groups we have in US, or a practitioner of any non-privileged religion outside of the US. I should be thinking of those people, and what their response is to the various billboards and slogans.

    Instead my imagination paints the picture above. One of a religiously privileged young woman with her hair pulled back behind her ears which are covered by a orange hat (possibly with some yellow accents), which her mother knitted by hand, trying to avoid human contact in a subway station and then seeing a certain billboard’s message in poster form which stops her dead in her tracks. It’s not appropriate to the conversation, but that is where my mind goes.

  • Anonymous

    Chris, it looks to me like you may be getting at the idea that there are gradations of privilege. I’m not American, but I gather that moderate evangelical Christians occupy a privileged place in U.S. society, with RTCs not far behind (although there is regional variation). Liberal Christians, e.g. universalists, are a notch below more evangelical Christians. Atheists and pagans are several notches lower.

    The problem with the atheist billboard is that it’s painting with too broad a brush. It’s not just targeting the most privileged groups, which could stand to be taken down a peg. It would also target Chris’s orange-hatted young woman, who occupies a place of moderate privilege in society in general but lacks privilege in the subculture in which she grew up, and is pretty beaten down because of said subculture. It would also target pagans and Muslims, who aren’t really doing any better than atheists on the privilege front.

    In other words, the “You know it’s a myth” billboard is hurting some people who already hurt, and who certainly don’t need to be taken down a peg. It would perhaps be better for atheist billboards to use messages that promote atheism (e.g. “You can be good without God”) rather than attacking religion, since some religions really don’t need to be attacked.

  • Anonymous

    I am normally all about avoiding offense whenever possible. I think it is a good idea to be polite to everyone. However, I shall now, very much to my own surprise, speak up in defense of the “You know it’s a myth” sort of billboard. Not that I am saying that the local atheist crew should go trotting out right now with paste and advertising sheets to put that sort of thing up all over the place. But I think maybe it says what they want it to say, and if the rest of us don’t like it, that’s unfortunate. I mean, sucks to be us. But does it really suck that badly? Furthermore, with all due respect to chris the cynic for a careful limning of an interesting and pitiable character, the billboard’s possible impact on young ladies with orange hats who may or may not exist is probably not what we want to base our judgments on.

    I more or less get what chris the cynic is getting at, but it’s possible to come up with at least an equal number of scenarios in which the young woman is equally beaten down by her religion and desperately needs to see something direct and straightforward like, “deep down, you know it’s a myth.” As opposed to one of those bumper stickers that say, “Benedict XVI says ‘Defend life'” or “No Jesus, No peace / Know Jesus, Know peace.” Or maybe she’s just left her religion and is deeply hurt by one of the two bumper stickers just preceding.

    The point is that you can’t be sure what people need to see at any moment, and saying that people shouldn’t put up billboards that have the potential to be offensive, but are nonetheless no more offensive than many that are put up by corporations to sell things or by political parties. If your atheism is so weak that you can’t deal with seeing Benedict XVI on the bumper sticker ahead of you, maybe you shouldn’t be driving. At least not on the road I’m driving on. And if your faith is so weak that a bumper sticker that says “In your heart, you know it’s a myth” bothers you all that much, um, pretty much the same thing.

    Many of us on this board (I’m inclined to say most) are in advertising-heavy contexts. We are all exposed to all kinds of messages all the time that we reject or find offensive or think stupid to the point of offense. I think past a certain point one has to decide what to put one’s energy into being offended by.

    I know I sound a bit like I’m saying “a plague on both your houses,” and to a degree, I’m saying that, insofar as I’m saying that encountering advertising that is phrased in a way such that its content offends is almost inevitable. Past a certain point, I suspect it is good for us to absorb a bit of that. (I’m reminded of a Dorothy Parker story about a woman who was so delicate that her staff worked very hard to insure that she never encountered anything that would offend or disturb her. She was not an admirable character.)

    And now, having offended absolutely everybody, on every possible side of this argument, I shall duck my head apologetically and scurry off to my study to continue reading that book I have to read. It’s about what happens in a war.

  • chris the cynic

    Does it seem like I’m saying that I don’t have time for a complete response more than normal lately? It seems that way to me. Anyway, I don’t have time to respond more than a little right now.

    Furthermore, with all due respect to chris the cynic for a careful limning of an interesting and pitiable character, the billboard’s possible impact on young ladies with orange hats who may or may not exist is probably not what we want to base our judgments on.

    I agree with this entirely*. If we want the world to be a better place it doesn’t make a lot of sense to base our judgments on the things I feel because, as I’ve already said, what I feel often doesn’t apply all that well. Demographics far more worthy of consideration than young ladies with orange hats are members of minority faiths (and atheists plus agnostics if the billboard creators cannot be counted on to play nice with their own.)

    I wish I had time to go into greater detail on that now.

    But I think maybe it says what they want it to say, and if the rest of us don’t like it, that’s unfortunate.

    I’d say that its more than just maybe. I ran across a quote from a representative of the group responsible for the billboard saying what it was all about: “We get blamed for a war on Christmas every year. This time we’re actually going to pay attention to that. We’re actually going to earn a little bit of that.” I’d say that it does say what they want it to say, and says it quite well.

    I’m not going to argue that they don’t know what they’re saying. Some times, though not in this specific case, I may argue that they haven’t thought all of the implications through and in so doing are actually reenforcing some of the key components of the system they seek to oppose (hurting others who find themselves in similar situations along the way), but for the most part I think there’s a lot of understanding of exactly what is being said and exactly what reactions it is likely to provoke.

    What I do question is whether things always should be said. It seems like whenever we come across a formerly non-Christian character in Left Behind we get a story about how deep down they knew atheism/Islam/generic native American religion/[whatever] was a myth. And whenever that is brought up we here tend to regard that claim on the part of L&J as a completely assholic one to make.

    From my point of view that means either we owe L&J a (qualified narrowly worded) apology, or claims like that shouldn’t be made. And if they shouldn’t be made then they shouldn’t be made. Regardless of the speaker.

    I also don’t really think it’s a question of what people can deal with. For a personal example, I could deal with being called a fag when I was little and being made fun of constantly. (For the life of me I still don’t know why they thought I was gay.) I obviously could deal with it as I’m still here. I shouldn’t have had to. What someone can deal with is an bad measure of what they should have to deal with.

    If we’re going to live in a world where the only limit on what atheists have to deal with on account of being atheists is what they are capable of dealing with, and the only limit on what non-atheists have to deal with on account of not being atheists is what they are capable of dealing with, then we will live in a wretched world.

    Whenever I type “sho”, as in all of the various “Should”s and “Shouldn’t”s above, the word processor suggests that I mean “shoot-first-and-ask-questions-after-incinerating-the-body-to-make-damned-sure-its-dead”. With that I must go now. I hope this makes some kind of sense, I don’t have time to look it over again.

    *With the possible exception of the “carefully” which to me implies some level of craftsmanship. I hesitate to say this a little because I know that saying something came easily can sometimes be disillusioning, but that really was pretty much dredging up pure id. There wasn’t a lot of care involved.

  • Anonymous

    What I do question is whether things always should be said. It seems like whenever we come across a formerly non-Christian character in Left Behind we get a story about how deep down they knew atheism/Islam/generic native American religion/[whatever] was a myth. And whenever that is brought up we here tend to regard that claim on the part of L&J as a completely assholic one to make.

    From my point of view that means either we owe L&J a (qualified narrowly worded) apology, or claims like that shouldn’t be made. And if they shouldn’t be made then they shouldn’t be made. Regardless of the speaker.

    I think we have probably encountered the point where we find our disagreement. Or perhaps we are merely using different senses of “should.” L&J are writers (for a certain very broad definition of “writers”). They are entitled to write what they want. They are entitled to write with the most thorough-going nincompoopery. (They appear to be enjoying this right to the fullest, as I think we agree.) I am entitled to call them on their nincompoopery.

    The atheist organization is entitled to put up their billboards. We are entitled to say, “Whew! That billboard is seriously in-your-face! It is unpleasant to read. It does not make me want whatever it is you’re selling.” They are entitled to say, “It’s not meant for you.”

    Same holds for the church down the street with all the passive-aggressive signs about their spiritual beliefs.

    And the folks with the pope’s face on their bumpers are entitled to have the pope’s face on their bumpers along with the “defend life” claim. I am entitled to want to draw a moustache and Groucho glasses on it. If I ever do that, THEN we will all agree I have gone too far.

    In essence, I think it simply isn’t possible to say interesting things while entirely avoiding offending anyone. As I remarked earlier, the very statement that may offend me now may in two years be the catalyst that helps me change my mind in a positive way two years hence.

    Otherwise, I think we agree.

  • testing

  • muteKi

    Adds nothing in particular to the conversation but it was vaguely relevant and I thought it was a little cute.

  • Cissa

    I’m not going to love a god just because that god threatens me if I don’t.

    In fact, that discourages me from having anything to do with such an extortionist.

    I am rather like the atheists in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld that way: they continue to be atheists, even though the gods come down off their mountain and throw rocks through the atheists’ windows. :)

  • bg

    Fred Said > The embrace of the Missiological Case for Hell represents a shift in the argument of Team Hell that Moore acknowledges here. The doctrine of Hell, Moore argues, is “practical.” It is useful. It works. That is a much lesser claim than the assertion that the doctrine of Hell is true. And it’s a much lesser claim than the assertion — which Moore presumes, without support — that the doctrine of Hell is something the Bible teaches.

    Team Hell?

    It seems by the way that you use this phrase over and over again that you are attempting to degrade Mr Moore, Mr Mohler, the whole Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky and anyone who dares teach the Biblical view of Hell (Team Hell)?

    Are your word spoken in “Christian Love” guided by the Spirit of God as taught in the Scriptures?

    Fred Said > I don’t know Russell Moore, dean of the school of theology at Southern Seminary. I have never met him. But I know this much about him: Russell Moore is not a Christian…

    WOW!? If I may use Rob Bells line questioning in response to your so matter of fact assertion; Russell Moore is not a Christian? He isn’t? And you know this for sure? And you felt the need to let the rest of us know?

    Again I ask are your word spoken in “Christian Love” guided by the Spirit of God as taught in the Scriptures?

    As I read your review it became apparent that in your zeal to defend your understanding of what the Scriptures have to say about the reality of Hell, or in your understanding what they don’t say, you’ve become what you are accusing Mr Moore and the others of being. Your motives stand in light of your own condemnation.

    John 14
    1“Do not let your heart be troubled. You believe in God. Believe in me also. 2In my Father’s house, there are many dwelling places. If there were not, I would have told you. For I go to prepare a place for you. 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will return again, and then I will take you to myself, so that where I am, you also may be. 4And you know where I am going. And you know the way.” 5Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” 6Jesus said to him: “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father, except through me.”

    Acts 1
    1Certainly, O Theophilus, I composed the first discourse about everything that Jesus began to do and to teach, 2instructing the Apostles, whom he had chosen through the Holy Spirit, even until the day on which he was taken up. 3He also presented himself alive to them, after his Passion, appearing to them throughout forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God with many elucidations…9And when he had said these things, while they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight. 10And while they were watching him going up to heaven, behold, two men stood near them in white vestments. 11And they said: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, shall return in just the same way that you have seen him going up to heaven.”

    Acts 4
    7“By what power, or in whose name, have you done this?” ..10let it be known to all of you and to all of the people of Israel, that in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God has raised from the dead, by him, this man stands before you, healthy. 11He is the stone, which was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the head of the corner. 12And there is no salvation in any other. For there is no other name under heaven given to men, by which it is necessary for us to be saved.”

    Revelation 22
    18For I call as witnesses all listeners of the words of the prophecy of this book. If anyone will have added to these, God will add upon him the afflictions written in this book. 19And if anyone will have taken away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his portion from the Book of Life, and from the Holy City, and from these things which have been written in this book. 20He who offers testimony to these things, says: “Even now, I am approaching quickly.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

    As far as your assertion/claim that the Bible is silent on the subject of Hell therefore it is untrue..? Again I quote Rob, “what we believe about heaven and hell is incredibly important because it exposes what we believe about who God is and what God is like.”

    We’ve got to be very careful and have the utmost respect for the Bible and what it teaches so we do not distort its message even if we don’t mean to. No human explanation or interpretation of Gods Holy Word should be held to the same standard as the Scripture itself.

    I have this statement written in the front of my Bible as a reminder that “Even an infallible guide can be misused, for it is always used by fallible people.”