Where am I going? And why am I in this handbasket?

I’ll do one more post on this one, and then I’m moving on because I don’t want to ruin a perfectly good discussion by getting all repetitive. I’m just a little agnostic in a big world, and my viewpoint is all I have to offer here. Past a certain point of explaining it, I’m defending it – which I don’t need to do. I hope that folks who read my opinions here are able to see that, argue or not, this is the perspective of someone who doesn’t subscribe to any organized religion.

Anyhoo, ila’s comment helps me to illustrate something that may not be clear to folks with a different take than mine on religion. She compares sharing the Gospel with stopping someone from walking off a cliff. In both cases, she seems to be saying (and ila, step in if I’m wildly overinterpreting!) that the one person is saving another from an obvious danger and that doing so in no way implies judgment.

I would love to agree, but think about this: To someone who is not Christian, only the cliff is such a clear case. Based on the widely shared assumption that everyone wants to live, warning someone in this case would be the only thing to do.

But only Christian faith makes the second case – sharing the Gospel to prevent hell – comparable. Only Christian faith states that hell is the danger on the other end of not believing. To a non-Christian, the second case is not a demonstrable danger with assumptions shared by both. Not only that, but avoiding the danger that the Christian postulates requires more than a single, simple act, like stopping. Avoiding the danger – which you do not see – means changing certain beliefs and activities and even feelings. That’s much more complicated than just not stepping off a cliff. And it may be simple, but it’s not easy, and it’s especially not easy if you’re not positive that it’s necessary.

It’s also a matter of judgement. You have to believe that the other person is right and can see something you can’t, and that their assessment of your behavior is correct. That’s accepting someone else’s judgement in place of your own, judgement about what’s right, what’s wrong, what’s safe, and what’s not. And this is how it looks to someone who isn’t Christian. It may not feel like it, but judgment is part and parcel of evangelizing if you’ve decided you’re saving others from hell. It’s a difficult conflict and it sounds like it’s a Scriptural one. And with the authority vested in me as a self-described agnostic with the Biblical knowledge of a second-grader (if that), I’m not sure how you can resolve it without dropping the hellbound thing.

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14 Responses to “Where am I going? And why am I in this handbasket?”


  1. 1 Gordy May 16, 2007 at 1:37 am

    I would disagree that the two are not similar. If someone is truly heading towards an unseen cliff, warning that person is the loving thing to do. If (I said if) the Bible is true and the only way to escape Hell is to repent and trust Christ, then warning people of the judgment to come is the loving thing to do. Either the Bible is true or it isn’t. It can’t be true for one person and not true for another person. Either we are born condemned and need a savior or we don’t.

    Also, becoming a Christian is not based on accepting someone else’s judgment on what is right, wrong, safe, or unsafe. It takes believing what the Bible says about the just and holy God, the gift of His Son as the sacrifice for our sins, and the call to repentance and faith in Christ.

    P.S. I hope my comment on your previous post did not come across as judgmental – I am not your judge. I am far worse a sinner than you – I stand with Paul when he said “O wretched man that I am! Who can deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” I have an alien righteousness – a righteousness that is not mine own. I have Christ’s righteousness imputed to me through faith. My own righteousness is as filthy rags.

  2. 2 Rev Scottie May 16, 2007 at 3:00 am

    Gordy here is a question from an outsiders perspective.

    Do I have to believe in Hell to be saved?

    Rev Scottie

  3. 3 Gordy May 16, 2007 at 11:20 am

    Scottie, if there is no Hell, why do you need to be saved?

  4. 4 Rev Scottie May 16, 2007 at 12:10 pm

    That’s not what I asked. Remember try not to think of this from a christian perspective. What if someone doesn’t believe that hell is a literal place, can they be saved?

    Rev Scottie

  5. 5 Chuck Warnock May 16, 2007 at 1:16 pm

    How did the good news of Jesus become “how do I stay out of hell?” Jesus did not come to this earth to save people from hell. Jesus came in the flesh to show us what God is like and that God loves the world (remember John 3:16?), and is making all things new. Jesus announced the Kingdom of God is “among you” and invited people to join God’s work in recreating God’s world.

    How in the world did we reduce the good news to a “get out of hell” free card? How did we change “invitation to the kingdom” to “avoidance of hell?” Take hell off the table. Is there then no reason to follow Christ? Of course there is! Jesus’ life was about the presence of the Kingdom of God. The miracles of healing, feeding, raising people from the dead, and so on were God’s way of saying, “See, in my Kingdom, when it fully comes, there will be no more sickness, no more death, no more pain, no more hunger.” That’s what Jesus came to announce — the Kingdom of God.

    And, can we drop the “saved/lost” language? The conversation Christians should be having with others is “here’s what we think God is doing (making all things new), and we’d like to invite you to this new future God is creating.”

    Holly, my apologies for going on so long, but you’ve got it absolutely right. I think these posts are among your best because they challenge the inadequacy of evangelical paradigms. Good work and good thinking. — Chuck

  6. 6 Gordy May 16, 2007 at 1:25 pm

    Chuck, why did Jesus say he came to seek and save the lost?

    One point about God’s love: nearly every single mention of God’s love in the New Testament is linked to the death of His Son for our sins. For example:

    But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

    Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. 1 John 3:16

    Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 1 John 4:10

  7. 7 Gordy May 16, 2007 at 1:26 pm

    Scottie, what else can a person believe about Hell?

  8. 8 billphillips May 16, 2007 at 4:42 pm

    Chuck and Scottie,

    The gospel is offensive. Jesus was tortured for it, and legend has it that only one of the apostles died of old age. Christians should be the stench of death to those who are perishing (1 Corinthians 2:15-16).

    We shouldn’t get saved to stay out of hell. We should get saved because God was so kind to save us from hell (Romans 2:4). This requires us to realize that we actually deserve hell. Gordy explained the gospel with love and respect. He tried to make hell reasonable using God’s law. We should fear God and His justice (Matthew 10:28). Worldly sorrow leads to death, and I think Gordy did a good job of trying to draw out the Godly sorrow that leads to life (2 Corinthians 7:10).

    You guys have scripture-free viewpoints. If you don’t believe the Bible, I can definitely see how you could think I’m crazy.

    Bill

  9. 9 Rev Scottie May 16, 2007 at 5:26 pm

    Gordy,

    If you are going to be telling people about Hell i think it would be good for you to look at what society thinks about Hell, not just what the Bible says about it. Even Billy Graham doesn’t believe it is a literal place. How do you carry on a conversation with someone who doesn’t even believe the place you are warning them about exists? Not trying to pick on you but that is a valid viewpoint from someone outside the faith.

    Rev Scottie

  10. 10 Gordy May 16, 2007 at 5:43 pm

    Scottie, if someone does not believe in Hell or that it is a literal place, I only need to stick to Scripture. The Scriptures are true – I rely on the Holy Spirit to do the convincing. It makes no difference what Billy Graham believes – he can be wrong if he wants 😉

  11. 11 ila May 16, 2007 at 7:42 pm

    Hi Holly,

    I thought it might be time to chime in, since the post was constructed somewhat around my comment. There is a lot I could say on this, but here are a few thoughts.

    From your perspective, I know you don’t even necessarily even see the “cliff.” So I can see how you could view Christians as judgmental. This is not meant as an insult in any way. Certainly, believing for many is not an instant decision, and it probably shouldn’t be. (The cliff analogy definitely fell short there.) It should be carefully thought out and considered, and it does mean a change of heart, mind, and even feelings.

    My comment was actually directed to Rev. Scottie and other Christians who seem to not believe in hell. In claiming to believe what they believe, it lacks integrity for them not to view people in serious danger. I personally don’t understand how one could call himself a follower of Christ, truly believe in Him and His words (including those about the gospel and hell), and not want others to follow Christ and escape eternal torment, too.

    I also wanted to point out that when I talk to people about the gospel, I don’t tell them that they’re going to hell. I reason with them (as they don’t see the “cliff,” as you said) and let them tell me whether they think they are going to hell or not. Interestingly, many of them do. If they decide to believe in hell, I explain how they can be saved from it. There’s not much point in explaining the gospel otherwise.

    Secondly, I tell them (after reasoning) that this is what God thinks, not what I think. This may still come across as judgmental, if the other person doesn’t believe God is real, but just wanted to clarify that.

    Finally, I want to say that evangelizing may have a variety of elements, but there is no point to it if it doesn’t discuss hell at some point. I believe Jesus sacrificed his very life to save us from hell so that we could live with Him in heaven some day.

    You may think I’m judgmental :-), and I’m sure you many a commenter has said this, but I care about you as a fellow human being and would love for you to consider the claims of Jesus Christ and how being a Christ-follower could affect your life for now and for eternity.

    Keep up the great work! I really appreciate your discussion.

  12. 12 ila May 16, 2007 at 7:49 pm

    Gordy,

    I agree with you. Billy Graham is a great guy who has definitely accomplished a lot, but I base my beliefs on the Bible.

    Rev. Scottie,

    I think it’s an excellent idea to keep in tune with the culture to have meaningful discussions with people about the gospel. But you should not take your cues about Christianity from the culture. It doesn’t take a genius to recognize the culture is constantly changing on every issue, including morality and spirituality. God never changes, so I refer to the Bible for my spiritual answers.

    I also agree that you should keep in mind that others don’t believe in hell. Absolutely. Thank God for the Holy Spirit, who convicts of sin. I pray before talking to people for the right words for myself and for spiritual understanding for the people with whom I talk.

  13. 13 Rev Scottie May 16, 2007 at 8:47 pm

    Guys please don’t be putting words into my mouth, I never said anything about my personal beliefs; I have only asked you to take a step backwards and put yourself in the shoes of someone OUTSIDE the faith. They may not believe in absolute truth, a literal hell, the virgin birth or a host of other things. You’re evangelistic techniques are based on the assumption that any reasonable person is going to believe in a literal hell and are going to be appreciative of your pointing out that they are heading in that direction. I don’t know when the last time is that you have actually had a spiritual conversation with someone outside the faith but I have seen a radical shift in the way people think and I believe if you want to have an effective conversation with them you might want to hold off on the hellfire until after you find out were thay stand. I believe that was the jest of Holly’s original post. She didn’t like the fact that people who didn’t know her were making judgements concerning her views without ever engaging her in conversation.

    Remember share with gentleness and respect.

    Rev Scottie

  14. 14 ila May 17, 2007 at 2:46 pm

    Rev. Scottie,

    I sincerely apologize if I seemed disrespectful. That was certainly not my intent.

    I did want to say that I think I understand your perspective, at least to some degree, because I used to be fearful of using words like “hell” in sharing the gospel. I assumed it would turn people off, and it seemed so negative. When I learned it was OK (and necessary) I was quite surprised that when I explained hell and other spiritual concepts to non-Christians most were actually intrigued, rather than offended. I last had such a conversation about two weeks ago. I know people are different everywhere, but that’s just the experience I’ve had.

    I also agree that you should approach the whole thing with love, and sensitivity to their understanding.

    Thanks,

    Ila


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