Recently I interviewed Anabaptist / evangelical theologian, Jon Isaak about his new book, New Testament Theology: Extending the Table. He has a great quote that is worth pondering as evangelicals seek to discern the essentials and nonessentials regarding hell and judgment. He states:
All four of these scenarios of the final judgment are interpretations
that emerge from the imagery used by the NT writers. Should they be
reduced to one? Should some be ruled out? Should one be given preference?
This journey through NT theology has emphasized the diversity
of NT voices and images. So at one level, it is impossible to reconcile
these four NT images of the final judgment. Any one scenario effectively
eliminates the other three. However, at another level, each scenario does
illuminate some aspects of the NT writers’ witness to the final judgment.
To eliminate any would be to claim more than we can or should, as all
four derive from NT imagery. Still, there are three things that ought to
be said when constructing a biblical theology of the final judgment.
First, however the concept of the final judgment is imagined, it
must be shaped by the self-disclosure of God in Jesus. It is theologically
inconsistent to say that God will abandon God’s character of agape love
at some point in the future. Jesus is not expected to operate differently in
the end than he did during his ministry; the old-age notion of redemptive
violence does not get reactivated in the end. At the same time, it is
equally inconsistent to imagine that God could “wink” at evil, as if it did
not matter. God’s face is firmly set against evil and will not allow it to
have the final word.
Second, however the final judgment is conceived, it must not let
human cooperation or human freedom be trivialized, manipulated, or
eliminated. Both double predestination and universalism trample on
this fundamental freedom characteristic of God and the humanity created
in God’s image.
Third, however the final judgment is conceptualized, it must keep
the church’s mandate clearly focused on God’s mission to invite all creation
and every individual to authentic life and to unalienated relationship.
The invitation is to return home, to rediscover one’s true and prior
identity as God’s beloved. God’s mission is not about providing “hellfire
insurance,” but about the tremendous opportunities to experience authentic
living from now on. The gospel invitation is to come along now
and begin to experience authentic living; it will only get more difficult to
come along if one persists in rebellion. There is much to miss, even now,
by insisting on choosing the consequences of hell: alienation from God. (p. 343)
I would love to hear your thoughts on this quote and on what you believe are the absolute essentials that must be kept in tact on this issue of hell and judgment. Or, maybe you believe that it is what we have considered to be ‘essential’ that needs to go, express that as well…