______________________ LIFE, FAITH, ETCETERA

The Last Word and the Word After That January 6, 2011

“Our problem is that we use the idea of hell precisely the way the Pharisees did, exactly the opposite of the way Jesus did.”

[This is a re-post; now with quotes from the book.]

I’ve just read “The Last Word and the Word After That” by Brian McLaren. I give it a high recommendation. It’s the third of a trilogy, but it fully works as a stand-alone.

Here’s info from the Amazon site:

Product Description

For all those seeking more authentic ways to hold and practice Christian faith, Brian McLaren has been an inspiring, compassionate—and provocative—voice. Starting with the award-winning A New Kind of Christian, McLaren offered a lively, wide-ranging fictional conversation between Pastor Dan Poole and his friend Neil Oliver…
in this third installment of their adventures, Dan and his widening circle of friends grapple with conventional Christian teachings about hell and judgment and what they mean for our relationship with God and each other. Is there an alternative to the usual polar views of a just God short on mercy or a merciful God short on justice? Could our conflicted views of hell be symptoms of a deeper set of problems – misunderstandings about what God’s justice and mercy are about, misconceptions about God’s purpose in creating the world, deep misgivings about what kind of character God is and what the Christian gospel is for?
Buy the book. CLICK HERE.


“With the passion of a Reformation broadside, Brian McLaren’s The Last Word and the Word after That goes for popular Christianity’s theological jugular: hell and damnation. Pained by a corrupted gospel that promotes exclusion, oppression, and violence, McLaren’s fictional Pastor Dan deconstructs dangerous understandings of eternal life and points toward the joy-filled possibility of Christian community shaped by a radical biblical vision of God’s love and justice. In a time when some churches have been co-opted by fundamentalist political-theologies, this prophetic tale of a new kind of Christianity serves as a much-needed challenge and corrective.”
–Diana Butler Bass, author, Strength for the Journey: A Pilgrimage of Faith in Community


“Brian McLaren has written a remarkable book on hell and the grace of God. And it is one hell of a book! The book is a narrative account, offered in a winsome conversational mode, that traces his thinking from a flat, closed, literalistic notion of God’s wrath to a relational articulation of alienation and reconciliation. McLaren’s work will be of immense help to those who are rethinking fundamentalist, literalistic ways of God that, in his judgment, have little to do with the Bible itself. The last word in the horizon of this book is hell, taken as ultimate divine punishment. The pastoral power of this book is that after that word, there is still the word of divine grace and forgiveness that overrides all the threat. This is a bold book that evades none of the hard questions. It evidences yet again why McLaren is an emerging voice to be taken seriously concerning new modes of church and new practices of faith.”
–Walter Brueggemann, minister, United Church of Christ; professor, Old Testament, Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur, Georgia

Buy the book. CLICK HERE.

Some Quotes

Biblically, God chooses some, not to the exclusion of others but for the benefit of others: they’re “blessed to be a blessing.”

I am more interested in generating conversation that argument, believing that conversations have the potential to form us, inform us, and educate us far more than arguments.

“There are people in other religions who are being led by God’s secret influence to concentrate on those parts of their religion which are in agreement with Christianity and who thus belong to Christ without knowing it.” – [from C.S. Lewis]

Could and would people be good without hell looming beyond death?

Real Christianity: It’s forever timely, not timeless.

[I rediscovered] my faith not as a set of doctrines on an outline of propositions but rather as…”the story we find ourselves in.” We don’t just hear the story or believe it, but it enters us, and we enter it.

I never liked the slippery slope analogy anyway. To me we’re starting at the bottom of the mountain, not the top. [I’m] not sliding, [I’m] climbing.

You’ve got to say that God doesn’t want people to go to hell. He wants to forgive us but he has to play by the rules of the court. It’s the only way you can save God from seeming like a monster. Of course, when you solve the hell problem that way, you have the new problem of creating a higher authority than God.

Scripture can’t self-interpret, so that brings reason in.

We lift statements of the their historical and narrative context, as if the Bible were some kind of timeless textbook or encyclopedia with no context, no history. As if the Bible were a codebook with truth hermetically sealed inside it.

The persistent Jewish disinterest in afterlife was all the more significant because their neighbors were fixated on a live after death. Nearly all the [other] cultures of the Tigris-Euphrates valley had stories of the underworld, or the place of the dead, which was a kind of shadowy place, dry, barren, gloomy.

Hellfire language is most popular when people have an enemy they need to vilify, some feared individual or group they need to blame for whatever is wrong with the cosmic order.

Rhetorical hermeneutics: An approach to Scripture that among other things tells us that we normally pay too much attention to what the writers are saying and not enough to what they’re doing.

[Hitler] realized that his agenda of killing the weak rather than caring for them was contrary to the ethos of the churches; wartime, he felt, would create an environment where the churches would be less likely to break ranks and speak prophetically to the state. Could the same sort of thing be happening today? Could the so-called war on terrorism be keeping the churches here in America from speaking prophetically to the state?

Most of the passages in the New Testament which have been thought by the Church to refer to people going into eternal punishment after they die don’t in fact refer to any such thing. The great majority of them have to do with the way God acts within the would and history.

[Concerning books like the “Left Behind” series]
What if Islamic fundamentalists in Saudi Arabia published a book that pictured American Christians being thrown into hell? Wouldn’t I be worried that this kind of literature would fan the flames of terrorism and perhaps even inspire fundamentalists to look forward to the day when people like us would be destroyed?

To seek God’s kingdom and justice means to seek for God’s will to be done on the earth as it is in heaven. [At the heart of the gospel is social justice. Not converting the world to a set of doctrines. Pre-occupation with the afterlife leads people to say] The world will soon end, so why worry about justice here and now. [Why worry about a planet that’s just going to burn.]

Our understanding of hell must be rooted in an acceptable portrayal of God…[and] the portrayal of God’s character that Christians should accept makes God’s love his primary motivational characteristic.

Buy the book. CLICK HERE.


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