Third or fourth (maybe fifth? who knows?) rule of blogging: Every post creates more posts. Yippee!
When last we spoke, I was sounding off about Lee Strobel’s take on Us Hellbound. (I’m being a little snarky with that phrase, but I also assume that I fall within his category.) Since then, some valuable comments have come in, which stimulated more thought and (hopefully, with this post) more precision.
Several of you agreed with me, which is always enjoyable for my sense of righteousness. (I can run off to my agnostic friends and say, “See?”) I especially liked the idea of the Gospel as practical, as expressed by Chuck, because that seems to approach the idea of the Axial Age that I’ve been reading about.
However, sprocket23 (good handle!) made an excellent point, that to evangelize to Us Hellbound is an act of love. Absolutely, I agree with this and I’ve seen this. I even had this in mind when I wrote the post, because I’ve had several friends tell me that they just don’t want to get to heaven and see that I’m not there. I believe that nothing but love motivates that kind of thing. So even if I didn’t say this in my earlier post, I do not question the motivation behind spreading the Gospel.
But my original point was that I object to the practice of seeing non-Christians as hellbound. Is it true, as Chuck points out, that Jesus never mentioned anyone being “hellbound”? If so, that wouldn’t surprise me. Although I respect the devotion of Christians to their idea of Christianity, I sometimes feel there’s a gap between what Jesus said and what Christianity (or later Christians) said.
Regardless of the scriptural basis of whether or not someone is truly hellbound, though, the real wrong is the idea of any human being presuming to determine that. I stand by my original thought that it is absolute arrogance to think that you know whether someone is hellbound or not. Catholics think Protestants are hellbound; some other sects think Catholics are hellbound; a whole lot of people think Jews are hellbound, and it’s all based on a scriptural interpretation and an opinion about the worth of that sect’s beliefs. Unless a whole lot of us are hellbound (and how again do we know until we go?), the sorting system isn’t really clear to any of us.
And arrogance just isn’t cute. Arrogance doesn’t make me think, “Hey, I think I should open up to this person.” On the contrary, it makes me irritable. Maybe I’m just contrary, but arrogance makes me more suspicious, not less, that the person in question doesn’t know what they’re talking about. I suspect, in fact, that this is at the heart of why a lot of evangelism doesn’t work. We’ve discussed this before, but I think it bears repeating because I think it’s a message that some evangelizing Christians won’t want to hear, even though listening might make them more successful with exactly what they’d like to accomplish.
If you see someone as hellbound, you have judged them. Period. And even where love abides, judgment makes for a big stone around its neck, dragging it away from its true purpose and real transcendence. Only God can judge, and the rest of us mostly have to theorize.
If you’re certain based on Scripture that someone is hellbound, you can have the comfort of your judgement, I guess. But you’ve also saddled yourself with a burden for your evangelism. Even if you don’t want it to, your attitude that someone is hellbound will communicate itself in the way you speak, the arguments you come up with, and other subtle factors that will tell your listener that you aren’t just saying, “Hey, this really was the right path for me and here’s why.”
When people can hear you saying, “You’re going to hell unless you do what I do,” the resistance springs up. You can dislike that fact all you want, and you can give reasons why it shouldn’t be that way. But if you can’t accept it as true (the way you want others to accept the Gospel as true), you’ll always be working with an anchor around your neck.