Saturday, March 19, 2011

Call Me a Heretic

There has been a lot of talk about Heaven and Hell lately
That's no a bad thing
However, how we got there is rather disappointing
It started when some Christian leadership accused Pastor Rob Bell
of Mars Hill Church in Michigan
of being a Universalist
and a heretic
Because they "heard" that in his new book
Love Wins
Rob Bell says there is no Hell.

Now, mind you, few,
if any
of these leaders actually read the book.
But they let the accusations and judgements fly anyway
Score another one for the church looking really stupid in the media

I had a brief conversation in Facebook with someone
I don't even know
about Rob Bell and this controversy
This other pastor was adamant that we root out heresy
in whatever form it presents itself:
If it looks like heresy
if it smells like heresy
it must be heresy.
I am pretty sure he worked as a temp
for the Spanish Inquisition

So, to spite this other pastor
I am putting my neck out on the chopping block
Call me a heretic
I believe that there is the possibility of post-mortem salvation
That is to say that I believe that people can be saved after death

Now keep in mind that when we talk about this stuff
we are firmly in the realm of speculation
and I admit that I have no specific Bible verses to back me up
I do, however, have some pretty solid contemporary and historical theologians
in my corner

Among them, Jerry Walls
who is a professor of philosophy at Notre Dame
formerly of Asbury Theological Seminary.
And even CS Lewis gave imagination to a similar concept
in his book
The Great Divorce

Here's the deal
If a person's salvation depended on her hearing the gospel
in it's truest form
that is to say not garbled up by the biases and misunderstanding of the messenger
Then, Houston, we have a problem

Because the church of Jesus Christ
not just the United Methodist Church
is not doing a very good job getting the message out
and it would be totally our fault if a person did not hear the gospel
or did not hear the gospel in it's truest form
In addition, what if that person who heard the gospel
didn't respond favorably because in their life they have seen
and heard Christians doing some really horrible things
or maybe they were one of the victims of Christians
doing really horrible things?

Could you blame a person for not accepting salvation because
they heard, saw or were victim to Christian abuse?
Or maybe, like Gandhi, they liked Jesus just not Christians
So why become one?

If God's only choice is the church
Then the world is in trouble
and we only have ourselves to blame.

Instead, I believe in something Jerry Walls calls
Optimal Grace
The idea is that there are people who won't choose Christ in this world
because of the above
or who never, ever heard the gospel
and God, who is infinite in love and mercy, gives them an opportunity
post death
to accept salvation through Jesus Christ.

Let me quote Professor Walls

"It seems clear that God would be willing to offer his grace equally to all persons. That is, he would desire to distribute his grace fairly so that all persons receive a full opportunity to respond to it. That is, God would not give some persons many opportunities to repent and receive his grace while giving others only minimal opportunities or even none at all. It seems a God of perfect love would do everything he could, short of overriding freedom, to elicit a positive response from all persons. A God of perfect love would not easily take no for an answer. Indeed, the very idea of optimal grace entails that each person must make a fully decisive response to it. Half-hearted, or uninformed responses would not be decisive." (Heaven: The Logic of Eternal Joy, p. 67)

Walls goes on to write, "Surely a perfectly wise, powerful, and loving God would not allow the opportunity for salvation to be limited to the inconsistent and sometimes haphazard, albeit loving, effort of his human servants to spread the gospel." (p. 74)

Does that save us from the responsibility to share the gospel?
But it does give us hope for those who did not accept salvation by grace
through faith in Jesus Christ
while they walked this earth.
And, it does make a lot of theological sense
that a perfectly loving God would make provision
for his stumbling church.

So call me a heretic
but call me hopeful
and if you must chop off my head,
that's okay.
I'll be fine.