Thursday, March 10, 2011

A question of Universalim

The internets are abuzz with criticism of Rob Bell's new book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. They are accusing Rob Bell of Universalism. Is this true? I don't know, I've only read two reviews of his actual book (not the teaser video) and one said he was and one said he wasn't. Regardless of what I think, everyone has to struggle with these questions.

Our modern view of hell has been shaped by writings of fiction or allegory outside of theological purview, like Dante's Divine Comedy. The Reform movement lead to a binary belief in "one saved always saved" and the opposite, "once damned, always damned." Yet the Bible itself isn't a systematic theology book, no matter how strongly people suggest it's "clearly" detailed. There appear to be different views on both heaven and hell in the Bible. To hold such a narrow view of both is to discount other passages in the scriptures.

This isn't surprising, because every dispensation of the Church on earth holds up some passages and ignores others.

So I simply have a series of questions for those who hold that Heaven is where faithful Christians go when they die, and Hell is where unbelievers will suffer for eternity once they die.

What do you make of 1 Peter 3:19-20?
After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits — to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.

What about the Nicene and Apostle's Creeds, still the benchmark for orthodox faith?
He descended into hell.

If hell is eternal, when Christ ministered to the souls imprisoned there, wouldn't all souls past present and future have been there?

If Christ indeed ministered to only the spirits from the past, why would he be excluded from doing the same for those of the future? After the advent of Christ on earth the rules changed, so after the resurrection everyone is held account differently?

What about the traditional view, held long before Christ's coming, that Sheol was a place all souls went in waiting for judgement? Christ himself uses this view in the Parable of Lazarus. (Luke 16:19-31) The Apocalypse of Zephaniah (which predates Christ) describes Sheol this way.

The Book of Enoch (approx same date range as the Apocalypse of Zephaniah) describes Sheol has having four sections: one where the faithful saints blissfully await Judgment Day, one where the moderately good await their reward, one where the wicked are punished and await their Judgment at the resurrection, and the last where the wicked who do not even warrant resurrection are tormented. Wouldn't an ancient Hebrew text have been influenced by the views of Sheol of the ancient Jewish faith?

These are things to ponder.

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